Hemp — a close relative of marijuana that can be used to make textiles and other products — has long been classified as a Schedule I drug by the federal government. That’s set to change.
President Trump is soon expected to sign a farm bill that includes a section that legalizes the commercial cultivation of hemp nationwide.
The bill, years in the making, comes as public support for cannabis legalization has increased over the years, offering a cover of sorts to politicians who see the potential for boosting state tax revenue.
Here’s a look at the movement to legalize hemp and whether it could open the way to lifting the federal prohibition on marijuana.
First, what is hemp exactly?
Hemp, like marijuana, is a form of cannabis.
The two plants look similar, with an important difference. Marijuana produces a flower — the sticky buds filled with THC, the chemical compound that creates a high when smoked or ingested. Hemp does not produce high levels of THC.
Instead, it is prized for its stalks, which contain fiber that can be used to make rope and fabric for clothing.
Its cultivation dates back to 8000 B.C. — and ancient Mesopotamia — and is believed to be among the oldest examples of human industry.
But hemp has been illegal in the United States?
Since 1970, when President Nixon launched the so-called war on drugs by signing the Controlled Substances Act, drug laws have made no distinction between hemp and marijuana when it comes to cultivation.
Both are classified as Schedule I drugs on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances, alongside heroin and LSD.
Over the years, this has led to misinformation about hemp. Earlier this year, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) summed up the bad news for anybody who tries to get high on hemp.
“Federal law treats hemp like it’s a dangerous drug, but the only thing you’re going to accomplish by smoking hemp is wasting breath, time and lighter fluid,” he tweeted.