NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Hemp Could Save Farmers -- But It's Illegal

April 1, 1999

Falling crop prices and rising costs are pushing significant numbers of farmers out of business. There is a crop that might help save their livelihoods: hemp. It is a non-intoxicating look-alike cousin of marijuana, but growing it in the U.S. is illegal.

  • Hemp was once routinely grown here for its fiber, seed and oil -- and it continues to be grown around the world, including in Canada, which legalized its cultivation a year ago.
  • After enacting a ban on marijuana in 1937 that came to encompass hemp, Congress lifted the hemp restrictions during World War II, then banned it again.
  • Legal experts say the federal Controlled Substances Act is ambiguous about hemp, but the Drug Enforcement Administration isn't -- resisting pleas to issue hemp- growing permits.
  • Legislation to revive hemp passed in Hawaii in March and has been introduced in legislatures in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont and Virginia -- but farmers would still need those DEA permits.

Until recently, the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy asserted that making hemp legal would send the wrong message. But last week its director, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, indicated that his opposition was softening.

Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp and the Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp-fiber paper.

Source: Christopher S. Wren, "U.S. Farmers Covet a Crop that Policy on Drugs Forbids," New York Times, April 1, 1999.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues