This post was originally made Febrary 2nd, 2015.
As most people know, the federal Controlled Substances Act (21 USC 802), classifies "marijuana" as a schedule 1 drug. The term "marihuana" (which seems to be the spelling Congress prefers) is defined in the Act as:
"all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seed or resin."
The definition goes on to explicitly exclude mature stocks of the plant:
"Such term does not include the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant which is incapable of germination."
This definition has created quite a bit of debate regarding hemp. Industrial hemp is produced from the stock of the cannabis plant. The flowers produced by the plant is the part with a high enough THC concentrate to give its user the psychotropic effect. This language in the existing definition of marijuana implies that hemp was meant to be excluded all along. However, the DEA has interpreted the Controlled Substances Act to include hemp, and accordingly treats it as a schedule 1 drug.
Both the US House and Senate seem to be seriously considering federally decriminalizing the industrial production of hemp. Two bills, both called Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015, have recently been introduced, one in the house and one in the Senate. They are almost identical, and have strong bi-partisan support. The Senate's version, authored by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (D), would make it clear that hemp is not classified as marijuana. The bill would exclude hemp from the definition of "marihuana," and defines "industrial hemp" as cannabis sativa L with a THC concentration of 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis or lower. The bill also considers hemp any definition of hemp under State law (regardless of its THC content), "unless the Attorney General determines that the State law is not reasonably calculated to comply with" the federal THC concentration restriction. The House bill, authored by Representative Thomas Massie (R) goes a bit further by including the same definition of industrial hemp, but does not give the Attorney General the authority to override State law.
The bi-partisan support for the bills is the most interesting part of this development. The Senate bill includes notable co-sponsors such as Mitch McConnell (R), Rand Paul (R), and Jeff Merkley (D). The House bill is not only authored by a Republican it has 50 co-sponsors 16 of which are Republicans and 34 Democrats.
If a substantially similar form to either of these bills is enacted into law it will be a huge development in cannabis law. Removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and explicitly giving states authority to regulate its growth would undoubtedly pave the way to a thriving and valuable hemp industry.
Eli Marchbanks, Attorney at Navigate Law Group.
Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue you should consult an attorney.