A small provision that was slipped into the massive farm bill passed by the U.S. House, now in front of the Senate, could lead to a big boon for the cultivation of industrial hemp.
Growing or using hemp is illegal under federal law, but the provision would block federal authorities from coming down on hemp farmers, researchers and higher education institutions in areas where the crop is legal, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado told USA Today.
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The provision applies only to states where industrial hemp is legal, including Colorado, Oregon, California, Kentucky, Vermont, Montana, West Virginia, North Dakota and Maine, the National Conference of State Legislatures states.
Industrial hemp is used to make rope, soaps, clothes, auto parts and numerous other products, but companies in the United States that use it have to get the plant from places like Canada and Turkey.
"I said it before and I'll say it again... these are monumental steps for the industry," Bruce Perlowin, chief executive of Hemp, Inc., said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal's Market Watch.
"What we are all trying to get people to understand is that this will finally unlock a clean 'American Industrial Revolution' that will not only be economically sound, but environmentally advantageous."
The Associated Press reported that hemp and marijuana are the same species
, Cannabis sativa, but the two are cultivated differently. The way marijuana is cultivated gives the drug its psychoactive chemicals, which only exist in trace amounts in hemp.
Companies and researchers that use industrial hemp in the United States imported $11.5 million worth of legal hemp products, up from $1.4 million in 2000.
"This is big," Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, which advocates for the plant's legal cultivation, told the Associated Press. "We've been pushing for this a long time."
The Senate still must agree on the bill. Hemp growing in the United States had been around since the birth the country; George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew it on their properties. But hemp was swept up in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which banned it.
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