By any measure, the U.S. hemp industry is playing a hot hand these days.

Retail sales of hemp products jumped by a whopping 24 percent last year, with Americans gobbling up a record amount of food, lotions, soaps, clothing, paper products and even auto parts made from hemp fiber.

While growing hemp remains illegal as a drug banned by the federal government, experimental plots have been planted in Kentucky and Colorado since Congress approved them for research purposes earlier this year.

And a bipartisan coalition is growing, with Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky boasting last year that he owns a hemp shirt and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack suggesting in March that Ukraine might ultimately provide the United States with a good supply of industrial hemp seeds.

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