Activists have been struggling to legalize hemp for decades in the United States, but only recently has the issue seemingly caught fire in Congress.
As states of a more liberal bent battle the federal government over the legalization of medical and even recreational marijuana, another cannabis battle has re-emerged in the farm states. But if pot smoking raises troubling moral and safety questions, industrial hemp does not.
Activists have been struggling to legalize hemp for decades in the United States, 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 United States. But while that may be an exaggeration — hemp is unlikely to become anything more than a specialty crop for a few hundred growers supplying goods to high-end food markets and low-end textile producers — there’s no denying that it’s a highly useful weed. The global market for hemp consists of 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.