Findings in a new report from the nation’s leading grassroots hemp advocacy organization show significant progress in the nation’s hemp industry in 2016.
Nearly 10,000 acres of industrial hemp were planted in the United States in 2016, according to recent data published by national non-profit organization Vote Hemp. The 2016 States Report, which tracks the domestic legislative developments regarding hemp, found that in the past year, 9,650 acres of crops were planted across 15 states.
“We’ve seen enormous progress this past year toward returning this historic crop to American farmlands,” said Eric Steenstra, President of Vote Hemp.
Industrial hemp, grown in countries all over the world, was at one point a staple crop in the U.S. Its fibers used to produce canvas, rope, textiles, and paper, hemp has been grown since the first European settlers arrived in the early 1600s. It wasn’t until the 1930s, when it was lumped under the umbrella of “marihuana”, that it became illegal. Now, after nearly a century of prohibition, hemp is once again finding a place in U.S. agriculture.
President Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014 Farm Bill), which featured Section 7606 allowing states to enact laws to permit the cultivation of hemp for research or pilot program purposes. According to the Vote Hemp report, so far 31 states have established laws defining industrial hemp.
Now into its fourth growing season, Kentucky has been a pioneer for hemp’s resurgence in the U.S. Virginia recently harvested its very first hemp crop since the 1930s. Rhode Island just passed a law allowing anyone in the state to legally cultivate hemp. In an effort to help kick-start its own hemp industry, Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture recently launched a cost-share program to help farmers cover the costs associated with hemp projects.
While more and more states have adopted hemp laws, the cultivation of hemp for commercial purposes remains federally illegal, so as for now, hemp must be imported and is commonly sourced from Canada, China, and other countries. Allowing domestic commercial hemp farming would offer a significant boost to the domestic hemp industry, which in 2015 was found to be a whopping $573 million.
“U.S. consumers constitute the largest market for hemp products in the world – the demand is here for full scale hemp farming across the country,” added Steenstra. “But growing the crop remains restricted at the federal level, due to outdated and misguided drug policy. We need Congress to take action this year to legalize this crop, so that American farmers can take advantage of the enormous economic opportunity industrial hemp presents.”
Federal lawmakers in both the House and Senate introduced versions of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act in 2015. If passed, the law would remove hemp from the controlled substances list and allow American farmers to freely produce and cultivate hemp.