Senate votes to remove hemp from Controlled Substances Act, expand opportunities

hemp imports

The U.S. Senate has voted to take hemp out of the Controlled Substances Act, a watershed nod of support for cannabis that could dramatically reshape the U.S. hemp industry.

The move came as part of the 2018 Farm Bill, which passed 86-11 Thursday. The bill must now be merged with the House version, which does not mention hemp.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who steered the hemp language in the overall bill, took to the Senate floor three times this week to call for the limited legality of the plant to be changed.

The Farm Bill will now move to a conference committee of House-Senate negotiators, which has until September to submit a final version to the president.

The bill says that Cannabis sativa L. plants at or below 0.3% THC are not controlled substances. The bill also:

  • Allows hemp production in all states – even those that have not yet acted to allow it.
  • Authorizes CBD extraction from hemp flowers.
  • Permits hemp production on tribal land and in Puerto Rico.
  • Allows hemp farmers to get crop insurance and access to federal water rights.
  • Requires states that want to have primary oversight of their hemp industries to submit plans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for how they would monitor the crop, including testing plans for THC content.
  • Protects hemp farmers from criminal prosecution for growing hemp with elevated THC content.
  • Requires states to refer hemp farmers to law enforcement if agriculture regulators determine that a farmer’s hemp contains too much THC not through negligence but “with a culpable mental state.”
  • Requires the USDA to study “the economic viability of the domestic production and sale of industrial hemp.”

Hemp played a minor role in Farm Bill negotiations, which have largely centered on farm subsidies for other crops and food-stamp benefits.

The House voted to roll back Obama-era food stamp expansions, prompting House Democrats to vote against the 2018 Farm Bill. The Senate did not include the same significant changes to food-stamp eligibility.