Washington DC – It is no secret that in America, political change is a slow and agonizing process. For years, lawmakers have paid lip service to the topic of decriminalizing cannabis while millions have continued to suffer as their medicine remains “illegal” and millions more are arrested for possessing a plant that is legal, in some form, in over half of the country.
Thankfully, the United States Senate has finally begun to take meaningful steps towards rectifying this injustice.
This week, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the 2018 Farm Bill with a vote of 86-11, which includes a provision that would legalize the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp. This vote comes just two weeks after the legislation was approved by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, with a vote of 20-1.
While hemp is typically demonized because it is the product of a variety of the cannabis plant, it is non-psychoactive and is not a “drug.” Hemp has the potential to be used in more than 25,000 products, including fibers, textiles, paper and construction and insulation materials—which may explain why the federal government has spent years trying to keep it from the public.
The provision to legalize hemp was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was also responsible for including protections for industrial hemp research programs in the 2014 version of the bill—even though he still thinks the psychoactive varieties of cannabis should be illegal.
“This legislation also will remove the federal barriers in place that have stifled the industry, which will help expand the domestic production of hemp,” McConnell said in a press release. “It will also give hemp researchers the chance to apply for competitive federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture—allowing them to continue their impressive work with the support of federal research dollars.”
In April, a report from the National Conference of State Legislators revealed that while the federal government claimed it was illegal, 35 states have passed laws legalizing industrial hemp production, which have addressed “the definition of hemp, licensure of growers, regulation and certification of seeds, state-wide commissions and legal protection of growers.”
As The Free Thought Project reported in March, Alaska Sen. Shelley Hughes said she introduced such a bill in her state after she was approached by local farmers who wanted to grow hemp to use for feed and bedding for livestock and to clean up oil spills.
In addition to legalizing hemp, Senator Chuck Schumer has introduced a bill that would decriminalize cannabis on the Federal level. Schumer’s office stated in a press release:
Formal Introduction of New Legislation Follows Schumer’s Announcement in April That He Now Supports The Decriminalization Of Marijuana – Original Co-Sponsors of Schumer’s Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act Include Senators Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine and Tammy Duckworth
New Legislation Will Deschedule Marijuana At Federal Level, Take Steps To Help Women and Minority-Owned Businesses Enter Into The Marijuana Industry, Invest In Research To Fully Understand Effects Of THC On Driving And Public Health,
Schumer’s New Bill Will Also Authorize New Grant Program To Provide Incentives For States And Local Gov’ts To Adopt or Expand Expungement Or Sealing Programs For Convictions Of Simple Possession Of Marijuana
While this recent groundswell of support for cannabis reform is undoubtedly a political move meant to secure votes in the upcoming mid-term election, it has become increasingly important in a time when President Trump has announced his support for murdering drug dealers and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has continued his crackdown on a plant that has a variety of medicinal uses.
Although Schumer’s bill does not fully legalize cannabis, it will remove it from its current Schedule 1 classification, and as the bill’s advocates point out, will drastically change the way the federal government enforces cannabis laws.
The bill also proposes several other changes, as High Times Magazine noted:
If the bill is passed into law it would:
- Establish funds specifically for marijuana businesses owned by women and marijuana business owners of color.
- Set aside $750 million for highway safety programs and other public health projects.
- Allow the Treasury Department to regulate certain aspects of cannabis advertisingand marketing.
- Set up around $100 million in grants to help expunge criminal records of folks who have been convicted in the past for marijuana-related crimes.
While this is no doubt fantastic news for billions of freedom advocates around the world, remember, as long as nature is outlawed humanity will never truly be free.
Rachel Blevins contributed to this report