This story originally appeared in print in our December 2018 issue.
Washington D.C.- Congress passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 on December 12, planting the seeds for industrial hemp to once again become a mainstream cash crop for farmers all across the U.S.
On Thursday, December 20, President Trump signed the bill into law.
The difference between marijuana and so-called industrial hemp is the latter is a strain of cannabis that contains less than .3 percent of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana â€” meaning so-called industrial hemp cannot get someone â€śhigh.â€ť
Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley throughout 2018 played key roles in getting the bill passed through both the House and Senate before it was signed into law by President Trump.
Trump signaled many times in the past he supports the federal legalization of industrial hemp, formerly outlawed under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which bundled together both types of cannabis â€” marijuana and hemp â€” as Schedule 1 substances, defining both as having â€śno safe medical useâ€ť and a â€śhigh risk of abuse or misuse,â€ť according to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).
â€śFinally we are recognizing industrial hemp for the agricultural product it is,â€ť Sen. Merkley said. â€śThis is a cash crop that hasnâ€™t been allowed to meet its full economic potential because of outdated restrictions. When I visited a hemp farm mid-harvest, I saw firsthand the enormous potential of this diverse crop under the limited 2014 farm bill.â€ť
Wyden said the 2018 Farm Bill ends the â€śoutrageous and outdated ban on growing hemp.â€ť
â€ś(It) has hamstrung farmers in Oregon and across the country,â€ť he said. â€śHemp products are made in America, sold in America, and consumed in America. Now, hemp will be able to be legally grown in America to the economic benefit of consumers and farmers in Oregon and nationwide.â€ť
Sens. Merkley and Wyden also helped lead successful bipartisan efforts to legalize industrial hemp pilot programs in 2014. Those programs, approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), allowed for limited, small-scale cultivation of industrial hemp for the purpose of studying market interest for the more than 100-known chemical compounds derived from the plant, notably cannabidiol, which is popularly is known as CBD or CBD oil.
CBD is a compound found in hemp and marijuana that is not psychoactive like THC but is known to have many therapeutic benefits, according to several scientists and private organizations who studied cannabidiol since the 2014 Hemp Farm Bill created pilot programs for research into products made from industrial hemp.
Scientific evidence has determined that CBDâ€™s benefits include pain relief, anxiety and depression management, alleviating some symptoms related to cancer â€” especially nausea and vomiting â€” a reduction in epileptic seizures, as well as high blood pressure, and even reducing acne.
Already, there is a CBD â€śgold rushâ€ť of sorts in the U.S. with companies readying for a market that New Frontier, a Denver, Colo.-based cannabis market data firm, says could create revenues worth as much as $2.3 billion by 2022.
The 2018 Farm Bill could help that market along by allowing for the broad cultivation of industrial hemp rather than the existing small pilot programs scattered across the U.S., as well as the transfer across state lines of products derived from hemp â€śfor commercial purposes.â€ť
Additionally, the farm bill places no restrictions on the possession, transportation, or sale of any future products derived from industrial hemp, as long as they are lawfully produced. But the bill also contains several restrictions making it illegal for businesses and individuals to grow industrial hemp wherever and whenever they please.
For instance, state agriculture departments will be required to work with a stateâ€™s chief law enforcement officer and governor to draft and submit a proposal to the USDA before any state can license and regulate industrial hemp. Â Â
And as mentioned earlier, under federal law no industrial hemp can be grown, nor any products made from it sold, unless it contains .3 percent or less of THC. The farm bill details possible punishments for those who do not operate under these and other federal restrictions, including those that would be considered felonious actions, especially for repeat offenders.
On that note, Sen. Merkley leveraged his position on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which regulates financial expenditures by the federal government, to lead a bipartisan effort that prevents the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from targeting industrial hemp farmers in states where hemp is legal, as well as another allowing hemp farmers to transport legal industrial hemp between states â€” provisions Merkleyâ€™s office in a prepared statement called â€śvictories for Oregonâ€™s hemp farmers.â€ť
â€śThis full legalization provides economic opportunity for farmers across rural Oregon and rural America â€” good for jobs, good for our communities, and just good common sense,â€ť Merkley said in that statement.
In addition to legalizing industrial hemp, the 2018 Farm Bill also includes provisions that would help Oregonâ€™s hop growers and provide drought relief to farmers.
The provision for hops allows the USDA to fight the two costliest diseases that affect hop plants Â â€” downy mildew and powdery mildew â€” which have been known to wipe out as much as 15 percent of a hop field, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue for hop growers throughout the U.S.
â€śOregon farmers produce some of the worldâ€™s best hops, generating rural jobs at home and supplying craft breweries worldwide,â€ť Sen. Wyden said. â€ś(This provision ensures) Oregonâ€™s productive and prolific hop farms receive the fullest protection from disease threats, allowing continued growth for this signature Oregon crop and our rural communities.â€ť
Wyden and senators from other western states also included a provision in the bill that ensures long-standing farm bill programs will remain easily accessible to states, counties and communities to combat drought by making it easier for the USDA to receive funding from the federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQUIP) to help farmers from western states with water conservation projects.
More can be found about the 2018 Farm Bill and the governmentâ€™s legislative principles here on the USDAâ€™s website.