For the second year in a row, the U.S. Senate unanimously adopted a resolution noting that industrial hemp “holds great potential to bolster the agricultural economy of the United States” and decrying that, “despite the legitimate uses of hemp, many agricultural producers of the United States are prohibited under current law from growing hemp.”
Hemp, low in THC, is a nonpsychoactive variety of cannabis that can be used to make food, textiles, paper and more. But under federal law its cultivation is generally considered as illegal marijuana production.
U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) moved that the resolution be adopted swiftly under unanimous consent on Thursday. No senators objected. A nearly identical measure was similarly approved last year.
The Senate’s repeated adoption of nonbinding resolutions criticizing hemp’s illegal status raises questions about why the body doesn’t move to actually change federal law.
“More than 90% of all hemp products are imported and American farmers are missing out on a $700 million dollar market” Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, told MassRoots in an email. “It’s time for Congress to pass commonsense hemp legislation to bring back state regulated commercial hemp farming and create rural farming and manufacturing jobs.”
In the last Congress, House and Senate bills to amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to exclude hemp from the definition of marijuana garnered impressive lists of cosponsors, but did not move to hearings or votes. The House version of the legislation had support from Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana, now secretary of the Interior, as well as Congressman Mick Mulvaney, now director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
To his credit, McConnell has been a leading cosponsor of the Senate industrial hemp legislation, and is expected to sign on to similar legislation again this year.
But even though he controls the Senate’s calendar, McConnell hasn’t ever made it a priority to bring the standalone hemp bills to the floor for consideration, instead only moving the nonbinding resolutions.
The new resolution designates June 5 – 11 as Hemp History Week.
On Wednesday, its sponsor, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), gave a floor speech during which he displayed baskets of hemp products.
“Hemp is harmless,” he said. “You are going to get as high off hemp as you will off a bag of vegetables. But, still, farmers in Oregon and across the country can’t legally grow it. So if America is serious about banning harmless products like hemp, just because they are related to drugs, then I have bad news for fans of poppy seed muffins.”
Wyden noted that he and a bipartisan group of other senators, including McConnell, would reintroduce their hemp legislation “very shortly.”
Congressman James Comer (R-KY), a former state agriculture commissioner who helped launch a hemp research program, also indicated in a floor speech this week that he will soon introduce a new version of the hemp reform bill in the House.
In 2014, Congress did include a provision in the Farm Bill that allows limited state-approved industrial hemp research programs, but large-scale commercial production remains prohibited.
As the Senate resolution notes, the U.S. “is the largest consumer of hemp products in the world” but “is the only major industrialized country that restricts hemp farming.”
That means that American companies producing legal hemp products must import raw materials from Canada, China and other nations.
Earlier this year, hemp advocates succeeding in garnering enough signatures on a WhiteHouse.gov petition to force a Trump administration response. But although a reply was due by April, the White House still hasn’t said anything.