The latest version of the farm bill allows certain farmers across the country to plant and sell hemp seed, a product related to marijuana.
The amendment to the farm bill, signed into a law by President Barack Obama in February allows states to authorize hemp-growing pilot programs, allowing for small-scale experimentation with the plant for industrial purposes
A variety of the cannabis plant closely related to marijuana, the hemp seed is currently illegal in the United States. The seed was banned in previous regulations in order to completely outlaw marijuana, or any crop associated with it.
Currently, any hemp seed imported into the United States must be sterile, and therefore, unusable for crop purposes.
Hemp has a variety of practical uses—from clothing to food to car interiors—and does not have THC, the ingredient in marijuana that creates a high when smoked.
During the Second World War, hemp fibers were in high demand for constructing naval ships and ropes. So much so, that the Department of Agriculture began a campaign to encourage farmers to grow the crop.
But, the status of hemp has taken a sharp turn since then, as the crop has been tightly controlled for nearly fifty years.
In Colorado, certain farmers have been given the nod by the Department of Agriculture to begin planting hemp seeds. Farmer Jim Denny, who lived in Brighton, Colorado, recently converted an old vegetable garden into a plot for hemp.
“The crop right now is sellable,” Deny said. “I’ve already had people contact me on my website saying, ‘We know you’re growing stuff and we want to buy it from you already.’ And we haven’t even put it in the ground.”
The crop may be sellable, but it is scarce. Since the seed is illegal to import, growers must obtain the seed from someone who already has a viable seed.
“I get calls every day of every week of people who want to go into the hemp business,” seed grower Ben Holmes said. “When I let them know the seed isn’t available, they really are sort of lost.”
Select farms in Central Kentucky planted hemp this past month. The crop was once vital in the region throughout World War II, but the seed left the state after it was decreed illegal during the 1970’s.
The Drug Enforcement agency recently seized a shipment of Italian hemp to Kentucky. But today, the DEA is thinking of releasing the 250 pounds of hemp they had previously seized . The Kentucky DEA is now a registered controlled substance importer, but has yet to acquire an import permit.
According to the Department of Justice, Kentucky farmers should have seeds sometime this week.
“If Obama allows this, he’ll go down as the hemp president, and farmers will appreciate that – it’s a billion-dollar industry,” the Vice President of U.S Hemp Oil. a company reliant on the product, told U.S. News.