Recently the struggle to legalize industrial hemp has seemed to be overshadowed by the spread of medicinal marijuana. As mom and pop medicinal dispensaries opened up all over states like Colorado and Montana during 2009 and 2010, organizations, individuals and state governments have quietly been pushing for the right to plant, grow, transport and manufacture products from industrial hemp.
Other than a few notable exceptions such as Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson, hemp has kept a much lower profile and tends to like it that way. But when it comes to budging the position of the DEA and federal government on their stance of considering hemp a category one controlled substance, the same as marijuana, many advocates are now wishing they could make a lot more noise.
Since the 1970 Controlled Substance Act hemp has been an illegal drug despite the fact that it has such little THC that it has no psychoactive or hallucinogenic effect. Starting in 1995 Colorado got the ball rolling with their Hemp Initiative calling for the legalization of low THC hemp. The bill failed three years in a row, but helped encourage other states to follow suit.
By 1999 legislation had been introduced in 14 states: Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. Only half of these passed and only Hawaii, North Dakota and Minnesota mentioned actually planting hemp. Many of the bills asked for feasibility studies and some challenged the federal government to repeal their ban on hemp as an agricultural crop.
By 2010 the number of states wanting the federal government to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp has grown to 17, adding the agricultural states of Texas and Kentucky. Despite state governments distributing permits to grow the crop, few farmers are willing to risk loosing the crop if the DEA decides to stage a raid. While medicinal marijuana growers have received some assurances that this will not happen, no such assurances have been extended to hemp farmers.
The largest legislative efforts at the federal level have been spearheaded by the diametrically opposed Representatives Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts). Together they have introduced the Industrial Hemp Farm Act every year from 2006 to 2010. To date the bill has never reached the floor for a vote, and the 2010 version is held up in the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security. At the center of the issue the DEA silently stands as the sentinel ensuring that hemp not find sympathy, but instead remain categorized as a dangerous controlled substance. Until this changes the hemp industry in the United States has one arm and two legs tied behind its back.