Tom Vilsack to be nominated as US agriculture secretary

President-elect Joe Biden will nominate a familiar hemp overseer, Tom Vilsack, for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

Vilsack served in the same role for all eight years of the Obama administration and oversaw the USDA during passage and implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill, which allowed states to experiment with hemp production.

Vilsack, an Iowan, was unanimously confirmed in the Senate in January 2009 and is considered “confirmable” by the next narrowly divided Senate.

The 2014 Farm Bill, which created the hemp pilot program, passed on the tail end of Vilsack’s time as USDA chief under Obama.

Jonathan Miller of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, a hemp advocacy and lobbying group, called Vilsack a “long-time champion of hemp,” saying the industry had a strong working relationship with the former agriculture secretary.

Miller pointed out that the USDA under Vilsack helped the state of Kentucky override hemp import objections from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“We are incredibly optimistic that he will help provide the leadership and clarity necessary to unlock opportunity in the hemp industry,” Miller said.

Denver-based cannabis attorney Shawn Hauser said despite that support, Vilsack contributed to “problematic policies” for the hemp industry, such as a 2016 USDA memo outlining the limits of legal hemp production.

However, she said, with the new presidential administration and different appointments, Vilsack will have “more opportunities for collaboration and support.”

“Given that the world of hemp has changed drastically since the last time he was steering USDA, I’m optimistic hemp will steer him towards environmentally friendly agriculture that supports small businesses,” Hauser said.

The U.S. House has already named a new chairman of its Agriculture Committee, which oversees the crop. Georgia Democratic Rep. David Scott will take over the committee from current chairman Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat who lost his bid for reelection.