WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives on Thursday overcame last-minute lobbying from the Drug Enforcement Administration to pass a farm bill amendment that would legalize the growing of hemp for research purposes. The 225-200 vote came after a flurry of opposition from the DEA, which argued that it would be too difficult for the agency to differentiate legal hemp from illegal marijuana, both varieties of the cannabis plant.
The House amendment, proposed by Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), is far more modest than a Senate effort by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to fully legalize growing hemp for industrial purposes. McConnell had hoped to have his measure inserted into the underlying farm bill or approved on a simple voice vote, but neither path proved open.
Polis said he'd been unsure whether the amendment would pass, but was gratified by the final tally. "We're having a hemp milkshake," he joked to HuffPost afterward. "Break out the hemp ice cream."
"On the merits, this is a no-brainer. Industrial hemp is an important product," he added. "It's perfectly legal, but currently we require that it be imported from other countries. Basically it's taking jobs away from American producers."
Allowing hemp to be grown in this country for research purposes, said Polis, would likely pave the way for Colorado State University to take a closer look at the crop.
Other hemp advocates were bullish about House passage, having had a chance encounter with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) at the Kentucky Derby in early May. The state's agriculture commissioner, James Comer, bent the ear of Boehner and his chief of staff, after which the speaker invited Comer and others to Capitol Hill for a meeting. Boehner was receptive to their pitch, Comer told The Huffington Post later.
On Wednesday, HuffPost obtained a copy of talking points the DEA was circulating among members of Congress to press them to oppose the amendment. "I saw that ridiculous, inaccurate letter. I'm glad my colleagues in the Congress saw through the bogus attempts to discredit" the hemp amendment, Polis said.
Hemp is legal in many countries, including Canada, and is legal to import but not to grow in the United States. Nineteen states have passed pro-industrial hemp legislation, and nine have removed barriers to its production: Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.
Polis waved an American flag made of hemp on the House floor during debate over the measure.
The next task for hemp advocates is to keep the provision in the farm bill when the House and Senate versions are melded. "We just wanna make sure this language remains in the conference," Polis said. "We hope that with the help of [Senators] Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul and others, we'll be able to keep it."
A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll found that by a 56 percent to 24 percent margin, most Americans think it should be legal to grow hemp.
UPDATE: 2:39 p.m. -- The farm bill, in a last-minute surprise, was rejected by the House on Thursday. It's unclear what the legislation's path forward will be, as the two parties trade blame for its failure. The fate of the hemp amendment is currently tied to the farm bill, but now that it has garnered majority support, the measure stands a good chance of passage the next time it can be attached to pending legislation.