On June 1, the Hemp Industries Association and the Kentucky Hemp Industry Council filed a petition with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to declassify industrial hemp as a controlled substance. Despite hemp’s low tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) content, roughly 0.3 percent, compared to marijuana’s 3 to 10 percent or higher, it has been considered a controlled substance in the United States since 1970, primarily due to it being visually indistinguishable from marijuana.  Hemp is a low input crop that can be used for a myriad of food, industrial and other products – from clothing to building materials, plastics and industrial lubricants as well as consumer care products and health foods. The U.S. hemp industry is worth approximately $573 million annually, yet most hemp used to make these products in the United States are sourced from hemp grown primarily in Canada, China and Europe.    


Environmental, Social Benefits of Hemp

Industrial hemp was one of the first row crops grown in the United States and was originally used for paper, textiles and ropes. The Declaration of Independence was first drafted on hemp, and many early U.S. flags were made from hemp fabric. After the passage of the “Marihuana Tax Act” in 1937, hemp began to be seen in the same bucket as marijuana, causing harassment of growers by law enforcement and ultimately, prohibition of cultivation under the Controlled Substances Act.  

Yet, hemp grows well in many climates, requiring low inputs of fertilizer and pesticides. Hemp is a durable alternative to cotton, requiring less land and approximately half the water of conventional cotton crops, according to one 2005 assessment. Hemp can also be used to make paper, biofuels, bioenergy, plastics, construction materials and food products.  Hemp seeds and oils are gaining popularity as a food product and additive, as they are an excellent source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which benefit cardiovascular health.

Currently, hemp is worth $90 million to the U.S. food industry, $147 million to personal care products, and $95 million in textiles and clothing.  Manufacturers have to import hemp from other countries, but businesses would like Congress to step in and allow U.S. farmers to grow hemp and regrow a U.S. hemp industry.


Hemp’s Status Is Murky in the United States

At the federal level, the hemp plant is classified as a Schedule I substance and, therefore, the cultivation of hemp is illegal. Yet, the 2014 Farm Bill allowed industrial hemp to be grown at universities or state department of agriculture, so long as the hemp is grown for research purposes or if its cultivation is sanctioned under an individual state’s law.

Currently, 22 states allow for the cultivation of hemp in some form. Thirteen states explicitly allow for commercial cultivation of hemp and nine states allow for the growth of hemp as part of a research or agricultural pilot program. According to Wednesday’s petition to the DEA, each of these states define industrial hemp as a hemp plant with no more than 0.3 percent of THC by dry weight.

To clarify the situation, a bill has been offered by lawmakers, To Amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marihuana (H.R. 525 and S. 134). The bill would simply remove industrial hemp plants, those classified as having less than 0.3 percent THC, and allow for the cultivation of hemp in accordance with existing state laws. The bipartisan legislation has 69 cosponsors in the House and 14 cosponsors in the Senate.


Businesses Calling for A U.S. Hemp Industry

Recently, outdoor gear company Patagonia jumped on the hemp bandwagon, releasing a short film, ‘Harvesting Liberty,’ which follows the efforts of Michael Lewis, a veteran and founder of Growing Warriors, and Rebecca Burgess of Fibershed. Lewis and Burgess are working to improve the economics of rural eastern Kentucky through the cultivation and manufacturing of hemp and hemp textiles.  In addition to Patagonia, other companies that currently utilize hemp in the United States include Ford Motors, the Body Shop, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, natural foods company Nature’s Path, and yoga clothier prAna.

Patagonia is betting that the market for hemp as a sustainable textile is just beginning, and has stated that they would like to buy their hemp textiles from U.S. sources, instead of current suppliers in China.  The company, along with the National Hemp Association, is circulating a petition to legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp in the United States.  They plan to deliver the petition to Congress on July 4. 



For more information see:

Petition for Removal of Industrial Hemp Plants from Schedules Established Under the Controlled Substances Act, The Hemp Industry Association

H.R.525 - Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015

Industrial Hemp: A Win-Win for the Economy and the Environment, Forbes 

Ecological Footprint and Water Analysis of Cotton, Hemp and Polyester, Stockholm Environment Institute

Hemp FAQs, National Hemp Association