The United States has a long history with hemp, legally distinguished from marijuana, but genetically identical as the plant cannabis sativa (L.) — now, hemp is set to reemerge in U.S. agriculture as an important crop following passage of the 2018 Farm Bill expected sometime this week. There had been a lot of speculation, and disappointment, regarding the Bill’s hang up to date — in fact, many had resigned hope of the Bill passing this year at all and already started referring to it as the 2019 Farm Bill. Most people in the agriculture industry are very pleased that the Bill is finally moving forward.
Specific to hemp, people familiar with it as an industrial crop anticipate that the hemp will quickly grow into an important mainstream commodity. Widespread interest in hemp’s chemical derivatives, such as the non-psychoactive substance CBD, is one of the driving factors. Agriculture businesses that have already invested heavily in the industry are thrilled. Although hemp was previously considered an essential crop in the United States dating back to the original 13 colonies and grown by many founding fathers, it has been mostly illegal, except in limited circumstances, since well before the current generation of farmers took over from their own fathers.
Importantly however, it should be noted that although CBD is already big business in the U.S., broader allowances for the production of hemp under the new Farm Bill will not blanket legalize either human or animal consumption of CBD unless any such CBD containing products have specifically obtained approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FDCA). Currently only a single substance, Epidiolex, has obtained such approval.
But there’s a lot more to hemp than CBD, such as its more traditional, well-known use as a natural fiber in ropes and textiles. Less well-known, however, may be hemp’s increasing popularity as a composite substrate (fiberglass) or for reinforcing concrete. Increased access and availability of hemp for such purposes will greatly improve research opportunities for other potentially useful applications. Hemp’s inclusion in this year’s Farm Bill signals its widespread shift back to mainstream acceptance over the last decade.
So, ready or not — here comes hemp — or perhaps more accurately, the return of hemp.