US-grown hemp could soon find its way into your food, clothes, and cars

The US may be on the cusp of creating a home-grown industry from a long-demonized plant. The US hemp industry is pushing hard for a measure that would make it legal for US businesses to produce the substance, and if lawmakers approve it, consumers could soon find US-grown hemp in their food, baby products, fabric, fuel, paint, body-care products, paper, carpet, and even auto parts.

The National Hemp Association (NHA) on Wednesday (Jan. 13) hired a lobbying firm with contacts deep in the US Department of Commerce to make a push to get the measure passed this year, said Zev Paiss, the group’s director. Paiss told Quartz the NHA is prepared to spend more than $10,000 per month to get the issue through.

More than 30 nations grow hemp to sell as a commodity on the world market, including China, which is the largest supplier of hemp fiber to the US. American companies are currently only allowed to use imported hemp to make products because federal law forbids growing cannabis, which is used to make the substance.

More than 70 US lawmakers from both political parties—including senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat Ron Wyden—back the measure (pdf). If passed, industrial hemp would be removed from the Controlled Substances Act definition of marijuana, effectively setting free what the Congressional Research Service estimates to be a $581 million hemp-product industry in the US.

To find further support, the NHA is approaching many groups that manufacture consumer goods, including auto companies like BMW, to communicate how hemp can be a sustainable source material for insulation in car doors, upholstery, and dashboards. It’s all about changing perception, Paiss said. “It’s a crop, it’s not a drug,” he said.

The issue of US-grown cannabis has become a murky one, as some states—most notably Colorado—have approved measures that allow growing the plant for medicinal and recreational use (a fundamentally different enterprise than hemp, which cannot be smoked or consumed to get a high). That side of the industry has boomed.

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