Farm Bill update: What the new Congress means for hemp entrepreneurs

U.S. Farm Bill, Farm Bill update: What the new Congress means for hemp entrepreneurs

The hemp industry has been waiting for months for Congress to take action on a new Farm Bill, one that could make legal barriers for hemp production disappear.

Now that Democrats have won control of the House of Representatives, hemp entrepreneurs wonder what that means for the 2018 Farm Bill. Could a lame-duck Congress steer it to the president before the end of the year, or will the hemp industry have to wait until 2019?

It’s hard to say, according to lobbyists and activists working on hemp expansion.

But they believe the Democratic takeover, combined with a strengthened Republican majority in the next Senate, bodes well for hemp.

“I view the election as a real big victory,” said Jonathan Miller, lawyer for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, which is lobbying Congress to take hemp out of the Controlled Substances Act and put the plant under the purview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We think this is going to be one of the very few issues where (incoming Democratic) Speaker Nancy Pelosi and (Republican Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell work closely together.”

Farm Bill options

Congress has a few options for dealing with the Farm Bill:

• Pass a compromise bill out of a joint conference committee.

Both the House and Senate have passed versions of the Farm Bill, but they contain critical differences that need to be overcome.

Hemp is not one of them, even though the House version doesn’t mention the plant.

That omission is commonly considered to be an attempt by Republican leaders to avoid losing votes for the larger measure.

But now that the Republican party will lose control of the house anyway, does getting every “yes” vote still matter?

It’s an open question, according to hemp activists who started scrambling hours after the election Tuesday to find out what the Democratic takeover would mean for the legislation.

“The biggest question is whether they try, in a lame-duck Congress, to move the Farm Bill,” said Geoff Whaling of the National Hemp Association.

• Introduce a new bill after the new Congress is sworn in.

If the current Congress can’t agree on a single version before January, the measure has to start from scratch when a new Congress takes over.

But that isn’t necessarily a disaster for hemp, Whaling said.

“If we have to wait, we have a lot of champions in the House,” he said.

One of those is Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota.

Peterson, who is expected to take charge of the next House Agriculture Committee, supports the Senate version of the 2018 Farm Bill, Politico reported Wednesday.  That version expands hemp production and removes any requirement that it be grown as part of a state pilot project.

• Do nothing and let the Farm Bill expire.

“The fear factor now is that both sides won’t be able to accomplish anything at all,” said Chad Rosen, CEO of Victory Hemp Foods in New Castle, Kentucky.

While doing nothing is always an option for Congress, it’s not a likely outcome, according to industry insiders. Funding of several key programs, including crop subsidies, is tied to the passage of a new bill.

What’s more likely is that Congress would pass a continuing resolution that allows the existing law to remain in force for a set period of time.

Opportunity for change

Morris Beegle, president of the Colorado Hemp Co. and longtime hemp activist, said the party change could provide an opening to peel out one Farm Bill element opposed by hemp activists: a lifetime hemp-farming ban for former drug felons.

“I hope that we can come to a resolution on the Farm Bill and that … the felony part comes out of it,” he said.

Miller, whose group opposes the felon ban but doesn’t want to see it hold up the overall bill, said he believes hemp’s future is bright but that Farm Bill delays are hurting the hemp industry.

“We’d rather have it sooner rather than later,” Miller said. “There are so many bankers and investors sitting on the sidelines until this happens.”

Hilary Morse – co-founder of The H. Hemp Company, a CBD manufacturer based in Topanga Canyon, California, and Boulder, Colorado – believes the hemp industry is poised to benefit from Democratic takeover of the House.

But her company isn’t counting on hasty Farm Bill action.

“The newly elected Democrats are apparently pro-hemp, so it should be a good thing for the hopes of the Farm Bill,” Morse wrote in an email to Hemp Industry Daily. “But predicting what Congress is going to do is impossible.”

Rosen pointed out that the hemp industry is flourishing even with the Farm Bill on ice.

“I look around and I see a lot of my colleagues in the hemp industry doing tremendously well,” he said.