So Is Hemp Legal Or What? It’s Actually Not That Simple.
Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars on hemp products every year. They eat hemp, wear it, rub it on their skin, and even give their dogs hemp chew toys. All that hemp could be grown in the United States, since it’s a relatively easy crop to grow. Yet the majority of these products come from hemp that is grown in other countries. That’s because the United States is one of the few industrialized nations in the world that doesn’t allow its farmers to grow this crop. The previous article in this three-part series looked at why hemp laws are so strict. Now, we’ll take a closer look at what these laws actually are, and at how the American public has reacted to restrictions on cannabis.
The first thing to understand about hemp—and all cannabis regulation—is that federal and state laws differ. Under federal law, all forms of cannabis are considered a Schedule I drug, and are thus strictly regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Agricultural Act of 2014 makes a few exceptions by establishing certain limited conditions under which hemp can legally be grown for research by universities and state departments of agriculture. However, it is still against federal law to grow hemp commercially.
Not everyone agrees with federal restrictions though, and many states have passed their own laws about growing hemp. Overall, more than 30 states have enacted laws regarding hemp cultivation. Not all of these laws were passed to make growing easier, but many were. As a result of these state laws, hemp farming is slowly increasing in the United States. The organization Vote Hemp reports that hemp is currently cultivated in a total of nineteen U.S. states, and that cultivation more than doubled between 2016 and 2017. Colorado has some of the most permissive laws in the country. It does allow the commercial cultivation of hemp, and is the largest grower in the United States with an estimated 9,000 acres of hemp grown in 2017.
A Challenge to Grow
Yet even in places like Colorado, hemp farming can still be very difficult due to federal regulations and public ignorance about the difference between hemp and marijuana. For instance, some farmers report that they have trouble getting crop insurance, or obtaining water rights for their hemp fields. This means that in contrast to other countries that grow hemp, U.S. total production is still minimal. While Vote Hemp reports that U.S. farmers grew approximately 24,000 acres of hemp in 2017, according to a 2017 report by the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance, Canada’s production is far greater, reaching about 84,000 acres in 2015.
The Industrial Hemp Farming Act, which was introduced to the U.S. Congress in 2017, aims to change that situation. If passed, it would exclude cannabis strains with less than 0.3 percent THC from the federal definition of marijuana that is found in the Controlled Substances Act. This would mean that hemp growing would no longer be restricted by the federal government.
It All Depends Where You Live
Like hemp, marijuana is subject to different laws, depending on where you live. Both growing and using marijuana remain against the law at the federal level, however a number of states have passed laws legalizing it. These laws vary widely. Some states have only legalized medical marijuana, while others allow recreational use. Overall though, despite legalization in some places, marijuana remains highly regulated in the United States. Interestingly, Gallup polls consistently show that while many states restrict it, the majority of Americans actually favor the legalization of marijuana.
Most other countries also have strict rules or prohibitions on growing, selling, or using marijuana. However, many don’t place the same restrictions on hemp. At least thirty other countries allow farmers to grow hemp, including Canada, Chile, France, India, and China.
U.S. Consumers Want Hemp
While hemp cultivation remains subject to strict regulation in the United States, Americans have eagerly embraced hemp products, and a thriving hemp market exists. It’s not illegal to import hemp or hemp products, and the United States imports large quantities of both. According to a report by the Hemp Business Journal and Vote Hemp, at least $688 million worth of hemp products were sold in the United States in 2016, making it the biggest consumer market for hemp products in the world. China and Canada are the two largest suppliers of U.S. hemp and hemp products.
Hemp is an astonishingly versatile product, and is transformed into a wide array of products. According to the Hemp Business Journal and Vote Hemp report, the most popular category of hemp products sold in the United States is personal care items (which includes things like lotions and soaps), comprising approximately a quarter of all sales. Hemp foods and hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) products follow, each taking about 19 percent of total sales. CBD is a unique chemical compound that is believed to have numerous medical benefits. Hemp also has many common industrial uses, such as plastics, insulation, and biofuel, and these add up to 18 percent of total sales. Finally, hemp textiles such as clothing, footwear, and luggage comprise 14 percent of sales.
Help Reduce the Misinformation Out There
Unfortunately, while hemp products seem to be increasing in popularity every year, there is still a high level of public ignorance about hemp. The cultivation of any type of cannabis has been prohibited for so long in the United States that many people don’t really understand the difference between hemp and marijuana, and treat them as the same thing. In reality, as this three-part series shows, the two are very different. If you enjoyed these articles, help reduce some of the public misinformation about hemp by sharing them with a friend.
Written By: Andrea C. Nakaya