Editorial: Wyden tries again to free farmers to grow hemp


Published Feb 16, 2013 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Give Sen. Ron Wyden credit for consistency and perseverance. He is once again trying to get the federal government to recognize the fact that hemp does not equal marijuana.

After failing to get his bill approved last session, the Oregon Democrat filed it again Thursday with support from fellow Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, as well as Kentucky Republicans Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell.

Wyden’s Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 would remove federal restrictions that bar farmers from growing hemp, as long as it has less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the substance that makes marijuana a controlled substance. The two plants are related, but differ sharply in the amount of THC they include.

Oregon is one of eight states that already distinguish hemp from marijuana, but farmers face raids and penalties because federal law lists it as a controlled substance. The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of hemp, but its farmers can’t profit from growing it. Wyden’s office reports that U.S. imports have grown 300 percent over the last decade. Canada, which provides most of U.S. imports, doubled the acres devoted to the crop between 2011 and 2012.

Hemp is used in the manufacture of a wide variety of products, including paper, clothes and rope. Its seed oil can be used in food, paint and pharmaceuticals, among others.

For those opposed to the kind of marijuana legalization recently approved in the states of Washington and Colorado, it’s critical to emphasize that this is a separate issue. This bill doesn’t tackle the larger question roiling in many states — including Oregon — about marijuana legalization. Nor does it have anything to do with medical marijuana, which is legal in more states.

This bill simply corrects a failure of the federal law to distinguish between marijuana and hemp. Its approval would allow American farmers to produce this lucrative crop, bringing jobs and profits home from overseas.

As Wyden commented in presenting this bill, “Unfortunately, there are some dumb regulations that are hurting economic growth and job creation, and the ban on growing industrial hemp is certainly among them.”

Well said.