Written by M. Sean High - Staff Attorney
On October 6, 2015, the Pennsylvania House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee unanimously voted to approve legislation designed to legalize, for research purposes, the growth and cultivation of industrial hemp.
Industrial hemp, produced from the plant Cannabis Sativa, has historically been used as a source of fiber, food, and fuel. Importantly, unlike marijuana, industrial hemp contains very low levels of delta 9 – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). As a result, industrial hemp is not considered a hallucinogenic.
Though currently produced in China, Canada, and EU member states, it has been illegal to produce industrial hemp in the United States, without a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), since the passage of the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. Notwithstanding this legislation, the 2014 federal Farm Bill provided a “pilot program” exception that allowed institutions of higher education and state Departments of Agriculture to produce industrial hemp for research purposes.
Though private production of industrial hemp remains illegal without DEA approval, Pennsylvania representatives Russ Diamond (R – Lebanon) and Marty Flynn (D – Lackawanna) introduced the proposed legislation for the purpose of taking advantage of the 2014 federal Farm Bill pilot program exception. With the October 6, 2015, the Pennsylvania House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee unanimous vote, the proposed legislation now moves to the House floor for a vote.
Relatedly, on October 13, 2015, the Agricultural and Food Law Consortium presented a webinar updating the current legal status of industrial hemp production in the United States. Conducted by National Agricultural Law Center Director Harrison Pittman, a recording of the entire presentation can be accessed here.