Congress Votes to Legalize Hemp, Cuts Schedule I Classification

Megan Brooks

December 14, 2018

The US House of Representatives has passed the 2018 Farm Bill by an overwhelming vote of 369-47, joining the US Senate in approving the bill that allows farmers to expand cultivation of industrial hemp.

The Farm Bill includes the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, which would make hemp legal in the United States. The Farm Bill passed the Senate in June. The bill now goes to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into legislation.

For decades, hemp was classified as a schedule I controlled substance. Although it's a type of cannabis, hemp does not have psychoactive properties or produce the "high" of tetrahydrocannabinol.

Hemp, which is used in industrial products, also contains cannabidiol. Its seeds and flowers are used in health foods, organic body care, and nutraceuticals. The fibers and stalks are used in hemp clothing, construction materials, paper, biofuel, and plastics, among other things.

In April, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 as part of the larger Farm Bill, with the goal of removing federal barriers to hemp production.

The measure legalizes hemp as an agricultural commodity by removing it from the federal list of controlled substances. It also allows states to become the primary regulators of hemp production, enables hemp researchers to apply for competitive federal grants from the US Department of Agriculture, and makes hemp eligible for crop insurance.

State Oversight

"Last year alone, Kentucky hemp recorded more than $16 million in product sales through the state pilot program I previously secured, demonstrating that hemp holds great potential for the future of Kentucky agriculture," Senator McConnell said in a statement.

"My Hemp Farming Act as included in the Farm Bill will not only legalize domestic hemp, but it will also allow state departments of agriculture to be responsible for its oversight. In Kentucky, that means that Commissioner Ryan Quarles, another champion of hemp, will be able to help farmers thrive," said McConnell.

"When the Senate votes on this legislation in the coming days, we will also be voting to give farmers throughout the country the chance to tap into hemp's potential and take part in its future," he added.

Hemp, noted Quarles, "is no longer a novelty but a serious crop that will unleash economic opportunity for our farmers."

Some forecasts suggest that the hemp industry could generate revenues of $20 billion by 2022 once the Farm Bill is signed into law.

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