In a rather symbolic moment in the march to the legalization of industrial hemp, the caretakers at George Washington’s Mount Vernon farm announced in May (although it has only recently received news attention) that they have planted a small crop of industrial hemp. They are doing so under Virginia law and say they are going to use the plant “as an interpretative tool to help better tell the story of Washington’s role as a farmer.”
As many know, hemp was a critical crop in Colonial times and some states, including Virginia, actually required farmers to grow it. Hemp was used particularly to make rope, thread, canvas and sailing cloth. Washington’s primary crop actually was hemp. Thomas Jefferson grew hemp as well.
The Mount Vernon farmers intend to use the hemp they grow to give fiber-making demonstrations at the site, which is owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union. They bought the site from Washington’s descendants in 1858 for $200,000 and now about a million visitors each year tour the facility. Many do not realize that Mount Vernon is not owned by the Federal government and is not a national park.
Hemp, while derived from the cannabis plant, contains no THC and has no psychoactive effects. In June, the Senate passed a farm bill that included language effectively legalizing industrial hemp. However, the House version of the bill is silent on hemp, and a conference to deal with the differences is being arranged. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a strong supporter of legalizing hemp, which many believe will help sway some skeptical House Republicans to support those provisions.
The US Senate, by an overwhelming 86-11 vote, last week approved the sweeping Farm Bill containing language which fully legalizes industrial hemp. As we know, hemp, which is derived from cannabis plants, is used to make products from rope to clothing and does not contain THC, the psychoactive part of the plant. In colonial days hemp was so crucial that farmers, like George Washington, were legally required to grow it.
Most believe the House will follow suit. Hemp has not been legal on a federal level since federal criminalization of cannabis in the 1930s. Many believe that occurred in part because of fears of hemp competing with powerful timber interests and DuPont’s then new patent on nylon. After the 1930s bill was declared unconstitutional in 1968, the Nixon Administration helped orchestrate passing the Controlled Substances Act. That law, still in force, declared all parts of the cannabis plant as Schedule I drugs, as dangerous as heroin and LSD. A top Nixon aide later admitted, “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” Constitutional challenges thus far have been unsuccessful.
Legalization of hemp could yield a variety of products that previously could only be produced with imported hemp. These could include food, building materials, paper products and many others. Currently, it it believed that China is the largest producer of hemp, since it is legal to do so in a number of Chinese provinces. They started farming it during the Vietnam War to make more breathable uniforms for their soldiers in the intense heat. This Senate vote is indeed a significant step towards relaxation of federal cannabis regulation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced a plan on Monday to introduce federal legislation to remove industrial hemp as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Citing hemp as important to Kentucky’s farming history, he voiced his most positive support to date for this action. McConnell remains opposed to other legalization of cannabis.
Hemp is used to make clothing, paper and other products, is not ingested and contains virtually no THC, which is the psychoactive part of the cannabis plant. In colonial days, hemp was grown throughout the US, and in fact was required to be grown in states like Virginia where it was needed to make rope for boats. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp on their farms. China is now reported to be the largest producer of hemp, having geared up in the 1970s to make more breathable uniforms for their soldiers in steamy Vietnam.
In the 1930s, timber and nylon scions like DuPont and William Randolph Hearst saw hemp as a potential competitor and reportedly worked with the federal government to make all cannabis byproducts illegal in the US. Nixon doubled down in 1970 with the CSA simply continuing the prior prohibition on everything coming from the plant.
While it’s not clear when a bill will actually be presented to Congress, the AP says McConnell said about hemp, “It’s now time to take the final step and make this a legal crop.” Many think the next move could be to legalize CBD (cannabidiol), which contains many of the medical benefits of cannabis with negligible amounts of THC.