Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity
Renée Johnson, Specialist in Agricultural Policy
December 22, 2010
Congressional Research Service
Industrial hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa and is of the same plant species as marijuana. However, hemp is genetically different and distinguished by its use and chemical makeup. Hemp has long been cultivated for non-drug use in the production of industrial and other goods. Some estimate that the global market for hemp consists of more than 25,000 products. It can be grown as a fiber, seed, or other dual-purpose crop. Hemp fibers are used in a wide range of products, including fabrics and textiles, yarns and raw or processed spun fibers, paper, carpeting, home furnishings, construction and insulation materials, auto parts, and composites. The interior stalk (hurd) is used in various applications such as animal bedding, raw material inputs, low-quality papers, and composites. Hemp seed and oilcake are used in a range of foods and beverages, and can be an alternative food protein source. Oil from the crushed hemp seed is an ingredient in a range of body-care products and also nutritional supplements. Hemp seed is also used for industrial oils, cosmetics and personal care, and pharmaceuticals, among other composites.
Precise data are not available on the size of the U.S. market for hemp-based products. Current industry estimates report that U.S. retail sales of all hemp-based products may exceed $300 million per year. Because there is no commercial industrial hemp production in the United States, the U.S. market is largely dependent on imports, both as finished hemp-containing products and as ingredients for use in further processing. Under the current U.S. drug policy, all cannabis varieties, including hemp, are considered Schedule I controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA, 21 U.S.C. §§801 et seq.; Title 21 CFR Part 1308.11). As such, while there are legitimate industrial uses, these are controlled and regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Strictly speaking, the CSA does not make growing hemp illegal; rather, it places strict controls on its production and enforces standards governing the security conditions under which the crop must be grown, making it illegal to grow without a DEA permit. Currently, cannabis varieties may be legitimately grown for research purposes only. Among the concerns over changing current policies is how to allow for hemp production without undermining the agency’s drug enforcement efforts and regulation of the production and distribution of marijuana.
In the early 1990s a sustained resurgence of interest in allowing commercial cultivation of industrial hemp began in the United States. Several states have conducted economic or market studies, and have initiated or passed legislation to expand state-level resources and production. To date, nine states have legalized the cultivation and research of industrial hemp, including Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia. However, because federal law still prohibits cultivation, a grower still must get permission from the DEA in order to grow hemp, or face the possibility of federal charges or property confiscation, despite having a state-issued permit.
Over the past few Congresses, Representative Ron Paul has introduced legislation that would open the way for commercial cultivation of industrial hemp in the United States (H.R. 1866, 111th Congress; H.R. 1009, 110th Congress; H.R. 3037, 109th Congress). The Industrial Hemp Farming Act would amend Section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802(16)) to specify that the term “marijuana” does not include industrial hemp, which the bill would define based on its content of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s primary psychoactive chemical. Such a change could remove low-THC hemp from being covered by the CSA as a controlled substance and subject to DEA regulation, thus allowing for industrial hemp to be grown and processed under some state laws.