Maybe this time will be the charm.
Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden is again making an appeal to Congress to lift the restrictions on growing industrial hemp in the United States, an appeal he has been making since at least 2012. This time, he added visual aids to his pitch — an aide toting two bags full of hemp products to the Senate floor — and a short history lesson, describing the use of hemp in the U.S. Navy's first ships and George Washington's cultivation of it at Mount Vernon.
Hemp was widely used commercially in the U.S. on up through the Roaring Twenties for a variety of purposes, including clothing and rope. But it ran into trouble in the 1930s, when the federal government began cracking down on marijuana. The forerunner to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration decided to lump industrial hemp in with marijuana for some reason, although the former does not contain the concentration of psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that the latter does.
This evolved into a bizarre situation where the sale and use of hemp products such as food, clothing and toiletries was legal in the United States, but growing it was not — so virtually all hemp products were imported. Wyden refers to this as "a brainless, anti-farmer policy" that has cost U.S. farmers a lot of money.
In recent years Wyden, in partnership with his fellow Oregonian, Sen. Jeff Merkley, and Kentucky Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, has been lobbying to lift restrictions on the growth of industrial hemp nationwide. (Some states have begun venturing into growing industrial hemp, although the legal situation remains murky.)
Now, the quartet— with the growing support of a number of their colleagues — has sponsored a bill that would legalize industrial hemp and prohibit the federal government from interfering with hemp research projects or with legally produced hemp products. It also would encourage the U. S. Department of Agriculture to support industrial hemp research.
In 2016, the Hemp Business Journal put the retail value of hemp products sold in the United States at $688 million. Hemp is an environmentally friendly crop, requiring little fertilizer or pesticides and can be grown almost any anywhere.
It makes no sense to continue to restrict American farmers' ability to grow and sell industrial hemp based on an 80-year-old misunderstanding of what hemp is, and isn't. The only ones who benefit are the overseas farmers who grow the hemp for products sold in the U.S.
To support Wyden's and Merkley's bill go to https://www.wyden.senate.gov/contact/email-ron or https://www.merkley.senate.gov/contact.