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When will U.S.-grown industrial hemp products hit the market?

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In 1990, I took out a subscription to High Times magazine in protest over a federal prosecutor’s subpoena to the magazine for its advertiser records. When I opened up my solo law practice, I subscribed to High Times again — and still do — for my visitors’ reading pleasure, along with Rolling Stone and National Geographic.

In the pre-Internet 1990’s, I learned on the pages of High Times; the late Jack Herer’s (whom I met in 1991) The Emperor Wears No Clothes, which was advertised in the magazine; and elsewhere about efforts to legalize cannabis not only for recreational and medicinal purposes, but for industrial hemp, which typically is low quality for smoking, but used to manufacture rope, paper, clothing, handbags and other bags, seeds for food (including hemp milk and hemp cheese, available at health food stores), and hemp lip balm for me, all of which (except possibly for rope) are easily and lawfully purchased in the United States, but without benefitting American farmers, because the seeds must be grown abroad under current U.S. law, making financially happy such hemp growing nations as Canada and China, while depriving the United States of the economic benefits of growing hemp domestically.

Jack Herer and others were fond of pointing out the World War II U.S. government propaganda film Hemp for Victory, which encouraged farmers to grow hemp to support the war effort. Until recently, that was apparently the last time that domestic hemp growing was allowed under federal law. Kentucky’s late Gatewood Galbraith — lawyer and repeated political candidate — touted hemp as a crop to stimulate Kentucky’s economy and help its farmers. Many years later, Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell got partially on board, supporting a farm bill provision legalizing industrial hemp research in states whose legislatures made such activity lawful, which Kentucky did.

This week came news that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had seized a 250 pound Italian hemp seed shipment to Kentucky for just such lawful research purposes. Whether motivated by principle, political aspirations or otherwise, Kentucky’ Agriculture Commissioner James Comer butted heads directly with the DEA on this seizure. Perhaps Comer’s head butting lead to a quicker resolution with the DEA, which now will allow such hempseed imports to Kentucky, by doing so through an import license, where the DEA will help expedite the state’s import license application.

The next essential step is to allow domestic hemp growing for commercial purposes, not merely for research purposes, and to legalize marijuana itself.

Gatewood Galbraith and Jack Herer must be smiling in the great beyond, and so am I.