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Congress Alert

Sanity Emerges: US to Legalize Some Hemp Growing

Hemp Field

Researchers in several states soon should be able to legally grow hemp for the first time in decades because of legislation approved today in the US Senate.

While the new exception to the US law prohibiting growing hemp will be limited and will not affect US government prohibitions related to other substances under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the exception is significant as a rare instance where a prohibition under the CSA  a statute at the core of the US drug war  is limited instead of expanded.

The legal change, now passed by both chambers of Congress and on its way to President Barack Obama for signing into law, may be a harbinger of the dismantling of the US government’s drug war mentality that has reigned since President Richard Nixon declared in June of 1971:
America's public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.
Previous congressional actions signed into law by Obama, including reducing penalties for crack cocaine offenses, limiting the denial of student financial aid based on drug convictions, and allowing the District of Columbia to finally implement a medical marijuana initiative passed over ten years earlier, show that there is some momentum in the US government for de-escalating the war on drugs. Meanwhile, particularly in regard to marijuana and hemp, state and local governments going their own way is pressuring the US government to throw in the towel.

The short provision partially legalizing growing hemp is included in the gigantic “farm bill” that is on its way to the White House for the president's signature after being approved in the Senate today and the US House last week. According to Obama’s press secretary, the president will sign the legislation into law.

The hemp provision works in two steps. First, hemp is distinguished from marijuana by defining hemp as having a low content of the psychoactive component delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Second, an exception to the United States government’s prohibition in the CSA and other laws on the growing of marijuana is made by allowing colleges, universities, and states’ agriculture departments to grow hemp for research purposes in compliance with state laws.

The US hemp law change should yield opportunities for fully legal hemp growing given several states’ enactment of laws favorable to growing hemp.

Read the particulars here in the complete hemp provision Obama is expected to sign into law:

(a) In General- Notwithstanding the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.), the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (20 U.S.C. 7101 et seq.), chapter 81 of title 41, United States Code, or any other Federal law, an institution of higher education (as defined in section 101 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001)) or a State department of agriculture may grow or cultivate industrial hemp if--

(1) the industrial hemp is grown or cultivated for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research; and

(2) the growing or cultivating of industrial hemp is allowed under the laws of the State in which such institution of higher education or State department of agriculture is located and such research occurs.

(b) Definitions- In this section:

(1) AGRICULTURAL PILOT PROGRAM- The term `agricultural pilot program' means a pilot program to study the growth, cultivation, or marketing of industrial hemp--

(A) in States that permit the growth or cultivation of industrial hemp under the laws of the State; and

(B) in a manner that--

(i) ensures that only institutions of higher education and State departments of agriculture are used to grow or cultivate industrial hemp;

(ii) requires that sites used for growing or cultivating industrial hemp in a State be certified by, and registered with, the State department of agriculture; and

(iii) authorizes State departments of agriculture to promulgate regulations to carry out the pilot program in the States in accordance with the purposes of this section.

(2) INDUSTRIAL HEMP- The term `industrial hemp' means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.

(3) STATE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE- The term `State department of agriculture' means the agency, commission, or department of a State government responsible for agriculture within the State.
The hemp provision in the farm bill that passed in the Senate today originated in an amendment, offered by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and cosponsors Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Thomas Massie (R-KY), to a prior version of the farm bill. The House approved the amendment in a June 20 floor vote. That farm bill, however, ended up being voted down on the House floor later in the day. The hemp amendment language was then included in a new farm bill that the House passed in a July 11 floor vote. The Senate had previously passed on June 10 a farm bill not containing any hemp provision.

Then, on July 18, the Senate passed again its own farm bill, this time under the House legislation’s bill number. Since legislation is supposed to become law only if identical versions of a bill are passed in both the House and Senate, the differing farm bills with the same bill number (H.R. 2642) were then considered by a conference committee of House and Senate members tasked with putting together a single bill -- a conference report -- for consideration in both chambers of Congress.

The House-Senate conference committee created a conference report that contained a hemp provision a little more complex than but quite similar to the original hemp provision adopted in the House months earlier. It is this conference report version of the farm bill that the House and Senate approved and Obama is expected to sign into law.

More expansive hemp legalization bills have been introduced this Congress in both the House and the Senate. Massie has introduced H.R. 525 in the House and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has introduced S. 359 in the Senate to make legal under US law the growing of hemp by anyone for any purpose in compliance with state law. Neither of the two similar bills, both called the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, has received a vote in committee or on the floor in either chamber of Congress. Similar legislation was first introduced in 2005 by RPI Chairman and Founder Ron Paul.

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