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On Jun 28, the U.S. Senate voted 86-11 to approve an omnibus bill that included a provision to legalize the cultivation of hemp across the nation. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, was instrumental in this policy change.

On the Senate floor, McConnell spoke in favor of allowing hemp cultivation: “I’m most excited about a provision in this bill that will clear the way for the legal farming of industrial hemp by removing current roadblocks that prevent farmers in Kentucky and around the country from capitalizing on this promising crop.” McConnell also noted that “Consumers across America buy hundreds of millions in retail products every year that contain hemp, but due to outdated federal regulations that do not sufficiently distinguish this industrial crop from its illicit cousin, American farmers have been mostly unable to meet that demand themselves. It’s left consumers with little choice but to buy imported hemp products from foreign-produced hemp.” Kentucky, an agricultural state, already has a hemp cultivation program that is federally authorized for research purposes.

As a Republican state senator, Sonny Borrelli of Arizona, himself an advocate of hemp cultivation, memorably put it, hemp is “rope, not dope.” Unlike the buds of an unfertilized female plant, hemp does not contain enough THC to produce a high. The seeds and stalks of hemp are used to make many products, from clothing to food for pets and humans. As McConnell put it, “Hemp is in everything from health products to home insulation.”

After decades of intransigence, which has not yet entirely abated (most notably, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s rescission of the Cole memo, the Obama administration’s statement of a “hands off” policy toward marijuana businesses in states in which marijuana is legal), the federal government is showing signs of a change in policy toward hemp and marijuana. For the first time, a slim majority of Republican voters now approve legalization, and it appears that the federal government is listening. President Trump, Sessions’s boss, indicated in an offhand remark that he supported the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, a bill that would end the enforcement of federal marijuana law in states in which marijuana is legal.

In another sign that the federal government is no longer adamantly opposed to all things marijuana, the FDA recently approved Epidiolex, the brand name of a cannabidiol (CBD) preparation used in the treatment of two severe forms of epilepsy. Also, two Democrats in the Senate, Chuck Schumer of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey, have introduced legislation that would end the federal government’s classification of marijuana as a dangerous, illegal drug with no medical use. Schumer’s bill would decriminalize marijuana and allow states to follow their own course regarding legality, while Booker’s bill would legalize marijuana in the United States. Both bills also have provisions to allow for people who have federal marijuana convictions to expunge their records.

While it remains to be seen what, if any, changes in federal law may become reality as a result of the efforts of McConnell, Schumer, and Booker, it is noteworthy that the changes are being promoted at all, and it seems likely that one or more of the bills that contain some form of legalization will reach the president’s desk.

What do you think? Will hemp soon be legal? Will the federal government decriminalize, or perhaps even legalize, marijuana? Leave a comment below.

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About the Author: Eric Howard

Eric Howard, who lives in Los Angeles, is a staff writer for Marijuana and the Law. His most recent book, Taliban Beach Party, appeared in 2017.

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