By Caitlin Dewey
Lawmakers are poised to fully legalize hemp after a decades-long campaign, setting the stage for the resurgence of a once-common crop that disappeared during the war on drugs.
The legalization provision, championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and included in the Senate’s farm bill, would officially classify hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from the federal controlled substances list. Lawmakers are also expected to advance the measure when they meet next month to draft the final, bicameral version of the legislation.
Hemp landed on the list because it is, like marijuana, a form of the cannabis plant. But growers and farm-state politicians argue the two have been unfairly lumped together, depriving farmers of what could one day become a major commodity crop.
In Kentucky, in particular, hemp has been touted as a panacea for cratering tobacco sales and falling crop prices. Growers there have pinned their hopes for future profits on it. But as legalization looks ever more inevitable, the question now is whether industrial hemp can deliver on decades of hype and promises.
Advocates say the industry is poised for an explosion, particularly as new supply chains develop and researchers discover additional uses for cannabidiol oil, which can be derived from hemp. There are also concerns, however, that the industry may grow too quickly, forcing the price of hemp down to unsustainable levels before there’s adequate demand for it.