Once upon a time, industrial hemp dominated the American landscape. A hardy and dynamic cash crop, industrial hemp was one of the first domesticated plants known to man, used in everything from textiles and rope to paper. However, once federal hemp laws changed on the heels of the ‘Reefer Madness’ era, this completely changed.

The Fight for Industrial Hemp on the American Farm

Hemp farming changed by Reefer Madness

With the 1937 passing of the Marihuana Tax Act, misconceptions that industrial hemp was the same as ‘wacky weed’ (aka marijuana) resulted in the targeted harassment of industrial farmers by law enforcement. As a result, most farmers were discouraged growing hemp, and within less than 20 years, the last legal industrial hemp crop was grown in Wisconsin in 1958.

In 1970, the passage of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) officially prohibited the cultivation of industrial hemp on US soil.

Even today, giants like Ford, The Body Shop, and Patagonia still use sustainable hemp seed, fiber, and oil in their raw materials. However, most hemp product manufacturers must import hemp-derived materials from producers in Canada, China, and Europe.

Despite the fact that American farmers were prohibited from growing hemp due to federal industrial hemp laws for so long, the hemp industry itself is alive and well. In 2012 for example, the American hemp industry was valued at an incredible $500 million in retail sales, even though American farmers weren’t participating in the industry.

Bipartisan support results in the Agricultural Act of 2014

President Barack Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the 2014 Farm Bill. In it, Section 7606 allows universities and state departments of agriculture to begin cultivating industrial hemp, albeit for limited purposes.

According to the text of the bill, farmers can grow 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.”

Since then, 33 states have passed legislation relating to the cultivation of industrial hemp. From defining what ‘hemp’ is to outlining licensure requirements for growers, seed certification and regulation, and much more. It should be noted, however, that authoring legislation isn’t the same as legalization. For example, some states only allow for the creation of an industrial hemp program until there is a change in federal industrial hemp laws.

The push for progress continues with the Industrial Hemp Farming Act

Despite the fact that there have been undoubtedly mixed signals from the current administration regarding all things marijuana-related, there is strong bipartisan support of both recreational cannabis and industrial hemp in the United States.

Although Congress has previously authorized research on hemp at state agricultural research centers, one bipartisan bill has been waiting in the wings for almost two years. HB 3530, also known as the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, proposes merely that Congress determine “Industrial hemp is a non-narcotic agricultural commodity that is used in tens of thousands of legal and legitimate products.” Passing HB 3530 would also end the DEA’s authority over hemp by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act.

As we speed toward a future that embraces the change of federal hemp laws and recreational marijuana legalization, it’s clear that both industrial hemp and recreational marijuana will play a large part in shaping the future of our economy.

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