Hemp farmers nationwide are preparing for harvest, but they’re also keeping a close eye on Washington DC. Here are some reasons why:
- Congress is beginning final negotiations on the 2018 Farm Bill, which could either remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act or revive a prohibition on growing it.
- It’s up to 56 lawmakers who will start work Wednesday to hammer out differences between the two bills that passed the House and Senate.
- The 2014 Farm Bill – which ushered in the modern hemp industry by allowing states to experiment with pilot projects in hemp production – expires Sept. 30.
- Congress must either pass a new Farm Bill or extend the current one – or the bill expires. (Outright expiration of the Farm Bill is extremely unlikely, however; the Farm Bill includes authorization for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and a laundry list of other programs important to American agriculture.)
Forty-one states have authorized hemp production, and the stakes are high for the entire nascent hemp industry.
Adopting the Senate language around hemp would remove the plant from the Controlled Substances Act along with any requirement that hemp be grown as part of a pilot project. In the House version, however, there’s no mention of expanding or even continuing the hemp experiment.
Hemp Industry Daily asked six leaders in the industry what they’ll be watching as Farm Bill negotiations enter the final lap:
Jonathan Miller, attorney, U.S. Hemp Roundtable: I will be watching for something that has nothing to do with hemp: the work requirements for the food stamp program.
That’s where the crux of the debate is going to be. A number of House Republicans are really pushing for stringent work requirements, and that’s a no-go for most, if not all Democrats. So that could tie everything up.
We still feel good about the Farm Bill passing, and that hemp will be in there. It’s fantastic that Mitch McConnell (Senate Majority Leader and sponsor of the hemp expansion) is on the conference committee. There are opponents to hemp in the House, but there’s no one kicking and screaming.
We’re feeling very, very good that once a Farm Bill is passed, it will include hemp.
Colleen Keahey Lanier, executive director, Hemp Industries Association: I want to see how this affects the states. A lot of the states are just now starting to make hemp regulations, and this is a moving target. What is the new Farm Bill going to require?
I was chosen to be one of the committee members for the Arizona advisory commission for the hemp program.
This was passed just this spring, and so we’re really trying to figure out what changes are going to come if USDA has jurisdiction over this.
And states that already have established hemp programs, they’re going to be really affected, too.
Bethany Gomez, CBD analyst, Brightfield Group: If there’s anything in there that would differentiate CBD from the rest of the plant, or saying we’re going to allow hemp for fiber but not CBD, that would be pretty devastating to the industry.
I’m also looking to see if there is any language differentiating whether CBD can be used just like a supplement or whether it has to go through pharmaceutical channels. That will have significant implications for the hemp market overall.
Steven Turetsky, managing director, Shi Farms, Colorado: We’re definitely watching the overall bill. But my opinion is, we aren’t going to see any rollbacks of the hemp rules we have now.
This crop is pervasive already. You have hundreds of acres growing in some states – thousands of acres in others.
I don’t think this is going away. States are really interested in this succeeding. Farmers who are seeing decreasing profit margins every year are looking for a new crop as a hedge.
Michael Brubeck, CEO, Centuria Natural Foods, Nevada: We’ve been cultivating hemp and manufacturing CBD products outside the United States since well before the 2014 Farm Bill was put into effect. So we’ll survive, and the CBD industry will survive, no matter what happens.
That said, we of course support seeing this 2018 Farm Bill give the hemp industry here a stronger foothold. Cultivation and manufacturing and distribution of hemp – it’s all going to be expanded, and that’s great news.
Joy Beckerman, president, Hemp Industries Association: We must be vigilant with regards to the proposed existing definition of hemp. That’s what I’m really looking at.
Do not mess with that definition (in the Senate version, which includes all parts of the plant), and do not add anything further in law that the USDA wants to see from the states.
We’d like to see every aspect of the Senate language moved over, except the felony provision (a ban on drug felons producing hemp).
That’s not to say that this is a perfect bill. But this is a very big step forward.
(Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.)