Congress approved a bill this week overhauling federal farm and nutrition policies that will give permissions to grow hemp in certain areas of the U.S. for the first time in many years.
The bill, now being sent to President Obama for approval, contains a brief clause authorizing colleges and universities to grow industrial hemp for research purposes, as long as their state permits cultivation of the plant. That gives nine states the thumbs-up: California, Oregon, Montana, Colorado, North Dakota, Kentucky, West Virginia, Vermont, and Maine. Another 11 states have bills pending before their legislatures this year.
Legalized growing of hemp had congressional allies from both ends of the political spectrum. Democrats from cannabis-friendly states have pushed to legalize hemp cultivation, as have Republicans from states where the plant could be a new cash crop.
In 2011, the U.S. imported $11.5 million worth of legal hemp products, up from $1.4 million in 2000. Most of that growth was seen in hemp seed and hemp oil, which finds its way into over 25,000 different products—from medicines to plastics to granola bars and other foods. Even BMW’s new electric car, the i3, uses hemp to line the door panels.
"This is big," Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a group that advocates for the plant's legal cultivation, said late last month. "We've been pushing for this a long time."