Updated: Jan 19, 2019
After nearly half a century of prohibition, hemp is now legal in the United States.
With the passing of the Agricultural Act of 2018 (Farm Bill), Congress has officially ended the U.S. prohibition on commercial hemp production. The Farm Bill contains legislation, championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), that legalizes hemp by removing it from the federal list of controlled substances. It was signed into law by the President on December 20th.
McConnell's hemp provision gives states the opportunity to become the primary regulators of hemp production, allows hemp researchers to apply for competitive federal grants from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and makes hemp eligible for crop insurance. This measure builds upon the hemp pilot programs, which Senator McConnell secured in the 2014 Farm Bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been a staunch advocate for hemp in Congress over the past decade. He was responsible for the inclusion of Section 7606 "Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research" in the former Farm Bill, which allowed for hemp production for research and development through universities or state department of agriculture pilot programs. He was also behind the language included in the Omnibus Spending Bill, prohibiting any government funding from interfering with hemp being transported within the state, or across state lines, through legal hemp pilot programs operating under the Farm Bill.
Senator McConnell signs Farm Bill with a pen made of Kentucky hemp.
The bill passed in the Senate 87-13 on December 11, 2018.
Earlier this year, Senator McConnell introduced S. 2667 the "Hemp Farming Act of 2018" which became the hemp language included in the Farm Bill. He also appointed himself to the conference committee assigned to negotiate a compromise farm bill, ensuring the final bill would include the passage.
“My Hemp Farming Act as included in the Farm Bill will not only legalize domestic hemp, but it will also allow state departments of agriculture to be responsible for its oversight. In Kentucky, that means that Commissioner Ryan Quarles, another champion of hemp, will oversee hemp production in Kentucky. I applaud the Senate for approving the Farm Bill, which will give farmers throughout the country the chance to continue tapping into hemp’s potential and expand its market. I also would like to thank my colleague U.S. Representative James Comer (KY-1) for his work on this issue over the years and for sponsoring my bill in the House.”
-Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
McConnell has not been the only Kentuckian in Congress advocating on behalf of hemp. Fellow U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and U.S Representatives James Comer (R-KY), Thomas Massie (R-KY), John Yarmuth (D-KY), and Andy Barr (R-KY) have all been strong supporters, too. Rep. Massie championed the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 and 2015 in the House, until this year, when he passed the torch to former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner now Congressman, James Comer.
As agriculture commissioner, Comer played a key role in the return of hemp to Kentucky. He formed a hemp commission, with the support of Sen. Rand Paul, and assisted in the passing of Senate Bill 50 which set the framework for future hemp production, and launched the Kentucky Hemp Pilot Program following the passing of the Farm Bill in 2014.
Comer's hemp advocacy continued as Congressman, introducing the companion bill to McConnell's Hemp Farming Act of 2018 in the House (H.R. 5485). He also worked closely alongside Senator McConnell and a bipartisan team of lawmakers on the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee to secure the hemp provision.
"I’m particularly happy to see – with Leader McConnell’s help – the provision de-scheduling hemp from the controlled substances list included in the bill. With a strong USDA and state-based framework, the unnecessary government restrictions on hemp have finally been lifted and now farmers across the country can take full advantage of the crop’s potential as an agriculture commodity.”
- Congressman James Comer (R-KY)
Hemp was federally banned by the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. As a species of cannabis, the plant was coupled with its psychoactive cousin: marijuana. Hemp differs from marijuana in that the varieties defined as such contain little to no THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) and can't get you "high." THC is the chemical component of the cannabis plant that can cause psychoactive effects if ingested in concentrated amounts. To compare, hemp varieties are legally defined as having a THC concentration of no more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis, while cannabis varieties bred for medicinal or recreational marijuana typically contain anywhere from 10-30 percent on a dry weight basis.
While hemp will no longer be classified as a controlled substance, production will still be heavily regulated because not all cannabis is legal. State departments of agriculture will oversee hemp production through licensing programs (similarly to how state pilot programs are currently operating) that can be monitored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
That means Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) will continue to be in charge of the crop’s regulatory framework in Kentucky. The KDA Hemp Pilot Program is renowned as one of the best in the nation, and will continue its leadership under the new law.
“When I was elected Commissioner of Agriculture, I promised to make Kentucky the epicenter of hemp production in the United States. Thanks to the historically important language in the 2018 Farm Bill, Kentucky now has the opportunity to solidify its position as the national leader in hemp production. We take great pride in the fact that many other states look to Kentucky on how to create a successful framework.
- Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles
Commissioner Quarles reported that more than 1,000 people have applied to grow hemp in 2019, noting he hopes Kentucky agriculture can create an epicenter for hemp production in the United States. Last year, hemp produced over $16 million in product sales and attracted over $25 million in investments to Kentucky.
The KDA has released a Farm Bill one-pager to provide an overview of how it will effect the current hemp program and its