From the notoriously pungent corpse flower to the bright-red torch lily, the U.S. Botanic Garden has long dazzled visitors with an expansive display of exotic flora and rare plants. But the hemp plant—a more common species—has always been conspicuously absent from the garden, which sits just steps away from the Capitol Building in Washington.
Now, D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is working to change that. The District’s longtime shadow delegate wrote a letter last week to USBG Executive Director Saharah Moon Chapotin to request that male and female hemp plants be added to the garden’s collection: “Given that hemp is legal and enjoys national, bipartisan support, now is an appropriate time for the Botanic Garden to display hemp plants,” Norton wrote on April 20.
Norton’s letter comes a few months after the U.S. Department of Agriculture put a definitive stamp of approval on hemp. In January, the agency published final rules for hemp production, two years after Congress fully legalized the crop with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.
In her letter, Norton highlighted the historic and economic importance of hemp as a plant that was once grown by America’s founding fathers and now generates millions of dollars for farmers across the country.
“Since 2014, hemp has become a respected agricultural commodity in the U.S.,” the letter reads. “More than 45 states and 40 tribes currently engage in production of agricultural hemp.”
Hemp is already used in a wide range of commercially available products in the U.S., from boxed cereal to clothing and printer ink. The U.S. market for industrial hemp is expected to skyrocket over the next decade, rising from a $5 million industry in 2019 to an estimated $36 billion industry in 2026, according to research by Facts and Factors.
Norton was careful to note the difference between hemp and “marijuana,” which is still banned at the federal level despite both plants being derived from cannabis: “We understand that the display of the hemp plants would be the first time the Botanic Garden would display cannabis in its collection,” her letter said.
Under the Controlled Substances Act, cannabis is still categorized as a Schedule I substance, putting it in the same category as drugs like heroin and ecstasy. However, Democrats in Congress have actively pushed to legalize the substance, with the House of Representatives passing a bill to fully deschedule cannabis in 2018.
Norton’s letter hinted at the fact that the tide is rapidly turning for psychoactive cannabis: “While this request is specific to displaying hemp plants, we note that more states and the federal government are beginning to legalize various forms of cannabis classified as marijuana,” she wrote.
Norton requested a response to her letter by May 4, but on Wednesday a spokesperson for her office told The Outlaw Report that the U.S. Botanical Garden is still reviewing the request.