Realizing our nation’s high

Industrial hemp must be legalized by the Drug Enforcement Administration

The United States agriculture industry has been stripped of one of its most beneficial cash-cow commodities. Since the installment of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the domestic harvesting of hemp has come under control of the Drug Enforcement Administration. To date, the only permits granted by the DEA for industrial hemp production are for research purposes, therefore making illegal the voluntary trade of industrial hemp. The legal production of domestic hemp would aid our struggling agriculture industry, lower consumer prices and most importantly protect our right to voluntary exchange.

Although the global market for hemp may be small, the U.S. demand for hemp products has grown exponentially. From 1996 to 2010, the value of U.S. imported hemp products has grown from $1.4 million to $10.4 million, a percentage increase of 643 percent. And yet, no single commercial hemp product is purely “Made In the USA.” Quite the contrary: all hemp products marketed in the United States are imported or manufactured from other hemp-related imports.

As a marketing scheme, industrial hemp represents the aspirin of the agricultural sector: the all-purpose commodity. The global market for hemp consists of more than 25,000 products in nine sub-markets ranging from agriculture and textiles to the automotive, construction and personal care industries. Its uses range from healthy skin lotions and oils to hempcrete — a composite used for home-building and even the interior framing of high value automobiles. A culmination of all industry U.S. retail sales involving hemp-related products estimates revenue value exceeding $300 million.

Moreover, industrial hemp is just as easily produced as it can be marketed in the American economy. It grows freely without herbicides, requires less water maintenance than cotton, has a low maturity rate and can even act as a rotational crop in place of clover or wheat.

Despite all the value-added benefits, industrial hemp is a clear case of commodity discrimination. Before the cannabis plant family became federally controlled, each plant variety was tested for its respective THC level: the primary psychoactive chemical which characterizes the majority of illegal substances. Hemp tested a THC level less than 1 percent, whereas marijuana tested sample sizes between 20 percent and 30 percent. In an attempt to increase drug enforcement feasibility, the DEA has prohibited industrial hemp due to its identical plant appearance to marijuana.

The legislative battle to legalize industrial hemp is doomed to fail until the dialogue is free from bias. Recent success has been made by Washington and Colorado in the legal production and sale of industrial hemp. Within the past month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voiced his support for industrial hemp along with Senator Rand Paul. However, the DEA continues to dominate the issue on the federal floor. We must recognize that the DEA has framed the issue in such a way as to defend the mission statement of the organization: to protect the morals, integrity and family nucleus of America. And yet, the evidence is clear that industrial hemp can do no harm to the American citizen.

Most importantly, the dialogue must change to incorporate costs to the American producers and consumers. The prohibition of industrial hemp production imposes a $10.4 million cost to inputs for American producers. The control of industrial hemp by the DEA places a barrier of entry for many domestic companies and creates an oligarchy for the hemp exporting countries of Canada and China.

The domestic production of industrial hemp should be excluded from the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. Industrial hemp is one of the rare commodities that can be easily produced and highly marketed. We must recognize that the continued support for the status quo not only denies trade advantages from producers and consumers, but also encourages a history of commodity discrimination void of rational justification.

Kyle Gibson is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia. He is pursuing a master’s degree at the School of Public Policy at George Mason University.

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