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Festival goers are given bags of Doritos corn chips by Seattle Police Department officers during the Hempfest rally in downtown Seattle, Washington Aug. 17, 2013. (REUTERS/Matt Mills McKnight) Festival goers are given bags of Doritos corn chips by Seattle Police Department officers during the Hempfest rally in downtown Seattle, Washington Aug. 17, 2013. (REUTERS/Matt Mills McKnight)  

Farm bill clears the way for hemp production

Hemp advocates rejoiced at President Barack Obama’s signature on the new farm bill Friday, which includes an amendment allowing states that have legalized hemp farming to begin growing this useful crop for research purposes.

“This is the first time in American history that industrial hemp has been legally defined by our federal government as distinct from drug varieties of Cannabis,” said Eric Steenstra, the president of advocacy group Vote Hemp, in a press release.

“The market opportunities for hemp are incredibly promising — ranging from textiles and health foods to home construction and even automobile manufacturing,” he said. “This is not just a boon to U.S. farmers, this is a boon to U.S. manufacturing industries as well.”

Vote Hemp estimates the U.S. market for hemp to be worth $500 million in annual sales and rising. Historically, products that use hemp had to have the main ingredient imported, because all forms of cannabis are federally prohibited under the Controlled Substances Act because marijuana has psychoactive properties.

Hemp, although in the same genus as marijuana, is not a drug and contains little to none of the THC that gets marijuana smokers high.

Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie and Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer introduced the amendment, which overrides the CSA and other federal laws against hemp production.

The amendment had broad bipartisan support in Congress, especially with lawmakers in agricultural communities.

“We are laying the groundwork for a new commodity market for Kentucky farmers,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.

Voters in Colorado and Washington legalized hemp along with marijuana for adults in 2012. Colorado’s Department of Agriculture approved hemp-farming regulations late last year, allowing hemp farmers to register to grow the crop as of March 1. Some farmers have already been growing the crop, in contravention of federal law.

Farmers in Colorado said research is needed so that they can learn the best practices for growing the crop.

“We don’t have a compendium of information to go to,” Colorado hemp activist Tom McClain told the Associated Press. “We do rely on universities and agricultural research to help us and direct us. We need local research to help drive the correct varieties, so that farmers get the best yield.”

“[A] change in federal law to allow colleges and universities to grow hemp for research means that we will finally begin to regain the knowledge that unfortunately has been lost over the past fifty years,” Steenstra said.

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