Since Washington and Colorado passed referendums legalizing marijuana in November, all of sudden people seem to be warming to the idea of legalizing it nationwide and growing hemp in the US.
What a sea change!
A bill introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) would remove marijuana and hemp from the control of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and authorize the Treasury Department to license state-authorized producers and distributors. Separate legislation from Rep. Earl Bluemenauer (D-OR) would create a federal excise tax structure for retail production and sales.
Basically, marijuana and hemp would be regulated and taxed much like alcohol.
“This legislation doesn't force any state to legalize marijuana, but Colorado and the 18 other jurisdictions that have chosen to allow marijuana for medical or recreational use deserve the certainty of knowing that federal agents won’t raid state-legal businesses,” says Polis. “Congress should simply allow states to regulate marijuana as they see fit and stop wasting federal tax dollars on the failed drug war.”
Another bill, the Respect States and Citizens Rights Act, introduced by a bipartisan coalition of US representatives, led by Rep. Diana Degette (D-CO), would prevent federal officials from interfering in Colorado's and Washington's newly enacted laws.
Will the bills pass? No, but alcohol prohibition didn't end until about a dozen states stood up.
Polling indicates that Americans are tired of the "war on drugs", which is not only a financial burden for the country but infringes on civil rights.
Recent polls show that 58% of voters believe marijuana "should be legal" and 53% believe "the government should treat marijuana the same as alcohol," and over 70% think the federal government should get out of the way of states that want to legalize it. Democrats and Independents are far more in favor of legalization that Republicans.
In Kentucky, Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce see growing hemp as an important route to economic development, and want the state to be the "king of hemp."
At least eight states have passed laws since 1996 that remove legal barriers to hemp farming, siting the economic benefits. Five of them – including Indiana, Vermont and Kentucky – are encouraging industrial-scale hemp farms, but that hasn't gone far.
Why? Because the DEA has to give a permit to grow hemp, and the agency considers it the same as marijuana - a drug.
"It could produce thousands of jobs," Kentucky agricultural commissioner James Comer told Bloomberg. "Industrial hemp is totally different than marijuana. It should be treated like corn or soybeans."
Consider the experience of David Monson from North Dakota, a state representative and wheat farmer who wanted to rotate his crops with hemp. Even though his state permit was approved, he was thwarted by the DEA application, which included a criminal background check and questions like, "Where are you going to sell this drug?" He decided not to grow it.
"I wasn't going to do it without a permit. They could threaten to take my farm," says Monson.
Although hemp and marijuana are "cousins" - it would take a telephone pole-sized joint to get high on hemp. Hemp is not a drug, another reason to take it out of the DEA's hands.
Ironically, hemp was widely grown in the US until the mid-1800s, when cotton became more widely used as fabric for clothing. The beneficial plant, which requires little fertilizer or pesticides, can be used to make a very wide range of products, from auto body parts to paper to soap.
Today, US businesses that make products from hemp have to import it, usually from Canada or China. More than 30 countries grow it as an agricultural commodity.
US retail sales of products using imported hemp were $452 million in 2011, according to the Hemp Industries Association.
The Other Side of Legalization
Those who grow marijuana illegally these days are afraid of legalization, because they fear small growers will quickly be booted out by big business.
Not only would the price drop, making it less profitable, they fear regulations and red tape so complicated that only giant corporate farmers could afford to grow it commercially.
Section 40 of Title 27 of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau's regulations has 534 subsections. You need a corporate lawyer on call to endure this document without a migraine. The system favors big producers, and Big Tobacco is ready. Philip Morris trademarked the brand "Marley" and Brown & Williamson see it as a new product line, reports Alternet.
Others see a role for small farmers the same as craft beers, and the public would benefit mightily from getting access to marijuana grown without pesticides.
Since there are no regulations for growing marijuana now, some growers douse it with heavy-duty pesticides, some not even approved for human consumption - they are allowed only on golf courses and lawns, for example.
Read, The Path Forward: Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy: