"Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth & protection of the country."
- Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President


U. S. farmers may soon see the return of hemp as a viable crop alternative, the first time since 1957 the plant could be legally grown.

H.R. 525, a House resolution that would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana, was introduced by Representatives Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) last week. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013, as the resolution is titled, carries with it the signatures of twenty-eight original co-sponsors.

The measure has been referred to House Committee, the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and in addition to the Committee on the Judiciary, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker of the House.

Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY) are expected to introduce a Senate companion bill to H.R. 525 later this month. If passed, the bills would remove federal restrictions on the cultivation of industrial hemp, the non-drug oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, a plant most often associated with marijuana. Supporters of the bill are quick to point out that industrial hemp and marijuana plants are not one and the same.

Hemp refers primarily to Cannabis sativa L. (Cannabaceae), although the term has been applied to dozens of species representing at least 22 genera, often prominent fiber crops. Hemp is one of the oldest sources of textile fiber with remains of hemp cloth dating back nearly 6,000 years. Hemp supporters point out there is a great deal of difference between hemp varieties used for industrial purposes and Cannabis varieties used for cultivation and harvesting of illegal resins, such as marijuana plants.

In recent years, new processing technologies have arisen to commercialize "cottonized" hemp, hemp concrete, high-tech hemp composites and other novel hemp applications.

If the bill submitted last week is passed by Congress, it would strike down a 1957 decision by the U.S. Justice Department that lumped industrial hemp with marijuana as a drug. But whether the bill passes or not, it won’t be the first time the federal government has been involved with hemp issues.