For years and years, interest groups have been fighting for the legalisation of marijuana. Worldwide, it seems as if they are gradually succeeding, whether in Uruguay and Canada, who have recently legalised cannabis, in the U.S., where individual states have taken this step, to countries like Germany, where growing marijuana is still generally illegal, but where medical cannabis is gaining more and more foothold.
What's been left rather unnoticed is that in many countries, growing cannabis (the low-THC industrial variants) has been legal for decades now - or was never prohibited. Following the general prohibition trend after World War II, hemp cultivation in Europe only survived only on a small scale in France, Spain and some Eastern European countries. But revived interest in the plant led to a EU-wide legalisation in the mid-1990s. Especially in the past decade, cultivation has increased, much boosted by growing demand for hempseed, which is used as a food and is a source for great oil. Today, hemp is grown on 33,000 hectares in the EU, which is the largest area since the Second World War. Main European production countries are France, the Netherlands, the Baltic Countries and Romania. Legislation varies slightly across countries, but in any case only 52 varietes of industrial hemp are permitted, all of which have to have a THC content of less than 0.2%. That's not enough for use as a drug.
In Germany, hemp is grown on 1,500 hectares of farmland. But not everyone can grow hemp - only farmers are allowed to do so. Quite often, it is said that cultivating hemp is a bureaucratic nightmare, but in fact it is not that bad: The farmer may only use certified seeds, has to announce the cultivation to the Federal Office for Agriculture and Nutrition and inform them about the beginning of the bloom (that's when the guys come and take probes for checking THC content). That's about it.
China is the world's hemp powerhouse and grows around half of the world's hemp production. In 2016, the northeastern province Heilongjiang alone produced as much hemp as is grown in the entire EU. And it seems China is driving forward hemp production: Some provinces massively invest in research and development to make hemp a real competitor for cotton. Quite recently, the Chinese military has equipped its soldiers with uniforms and underwear made of hemp.
But there are still countries that ban even the low-THC industrial variants of hemp. India is still reluctant to legalise it, with only individual states taking some first steps. For decades, the only developed country that prohibited not only marijuana, but also industrial hemp, was the United States. This might be changing at the moment: In June 2018 the senate passed a bill that would make it legal for farmers to grow hemp. The bill still has to go throught a legislative process, but if it succeeds, the U.S. might soon catch up with the EU and China.