Give this plant its due: legalize hemp
The highly useful weed has been entangled too long with that other ‘weed.’ That’s silly.
Activists have been struggling to legalize hemp for decades in the U.S., but only recently has the issue seemingly caught fire in Congress. Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signed on to legislation that had for years been championed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the former GOP presidential contender, and has now been taken up by his son Rand, the Republican senator from Kentucky. It would remove hemp from the federal government’s list of Schedule 1 controlled substances and make it legal to cultivate the plant.
What’s so hep about hemp? Supporters tout it as a wonder fiber with dozens of potential uses that would find a lucrative market in the U.S. The global market for hemp consists of some 25,000 products, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, including fabric, paper, rope, auto parts and home furnishings. Hemp seed, meanwhile, is an alternative protein source used in a variety of food and beverages, and can be pressed to make body oils, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Despite all this, it is illegal to grow hemp anywhere in the U.S. without permission from the Drug Enforcement Administration. There are currently no active federal licenses, so all hemp products produced here are made from imported material.
Historically, hemp was an important crop in the U.S. before it was caught up in an anti-marijuana crusade in the 1930s. When the Controlled Substances Act was approved in 1970, it took the definition of marijuana from the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which considered all varieties of Cannabis sativa to be dangerous and narcotic. Despite court challenges, the DEA continues to insist that any plant containing THC, no matter how little, must be tightly controlled.
Reasonable people can disagree about whether marijuana should be legalized. But the dangers of growing industrial hemp are next to nonexistent. To date, nine states have approved its cultivation, but none has any active fields because of a refusal by the DEA to grant growing permits.
Enough. Hemp is a rare issue that Republicans and Democrats, and members of Congress from both rural and urban states, ought to be able to agree on. Legalize it.