About Hemp Legalization and the 2018 Farm Bill
The hemp industry has experienced a massive explosion over the past few years. However, there’s one pending piece of legislation that could permanently change its trajectory: the 2018 Farm Bill. The farm bill is a “package” of legislation covering programs ranging from crop insurance for farmers to healthy food access for low-income families, from beginning farmer training to support for sustainable farming practices. The Farm Bill sets the stage for our food and farm systems.
The most recent version, the 2014 Farm Bill, is set to expire on September 30th. As legislators began preparing the 2018 Farm Bill earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) included the entire language of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 in the Senate version of the 2018 Farm Bill. If the 2018 Farm Bill is passed with this language included, it will make hemp fully federally legal for the first time in almost 50 years.
Summary: The Hemp Farming Act in the 2018 Farm Bill would fully legalize hemp across the nation. The Hemp Farming Act language is included in the Senate’s version of the bill but not in the House’s version. A committee is working to iron out the differences between the two bills by September 30th, when the 2014 Farm Bill officially expires.
The big breakthrough for hemp legalization emerged in April of this year with McConnell’s Hemp Farming Act of 2018. McConnell, a huge hemp advocate and expert political strategist, presumed these provisions would fare much better as part of the “must-pass” Farm Bill, rather than as a standalone bill. Thus, the full language of the act was included in the Senate’s version of the 2018 Farm Bill.
The Hemp Farming Act would make some significant amendments to several existing laws. First, it repeals section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014, which contained the requirement for conducting state-run research in order to grow hemp. Additionally, the act removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act’s definition of the term “marijuana.” It also amends Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act by inserting after “Tetrahydrocannabinoids” (THC) the following: “except for tetrahydrocannabinoids in hemp (as defined under section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946).” Finally, the proposal amends the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to provide for State and Tribal regulation of hemp production.
The Senate ultimately passed the 2018 Farm Bill with the Hemp Farming Act included with a bipartisan vote of 86-11. The House of Representatives also passed their own version of the 2018 Farm Bill by a much narrower margin of 213-211.
The two versions of the bill are drastically different. The Senate version includes the Hemp Farming Act and also makes amendments impacting conservation programs and commodity subsidies for farmers. The House version contains an amendment to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would reduce the number of individuals eligible to receive food stamps. This amendment is raising the most concern at present; Democrats are strongly opposed to these cutbacks, and some speculate they may be willing to throw out the Hemp Farming Act in order to compromise.
To iron out the differences between the two bills, Congress appointed a Conference Committee, made up of 9 Senators and 40 members of the House. The committee met for the first time on September 5th to begin working towards one final bill to submit to President Trump.
The Conference Committee has a great deal of work to complete before its September 30th deadline. There is always a possibility that this deadline may get pushed back; however, most committee members recognize the urgency of meeting this deadline and are optimistic that the new bill will be passed this month.