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Hemp Growers Would See Reduced Regulatory Barriers Under Senate Democrats’ Farm Bill



Senate Democrats are proposing key changes to federal hemp laws as part of a large-scale agriculture bill—including eliminating a ban on participation in the industry by people with felony drug convictions and reducing regulatory barriers for hemp farmers growing for grain or fiber.

The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee released a section-by-section summary of the chamber’s version of the 2024 Farm Bill on Wednesday. It also calls for freeing up federal food assistance benefits for people with drug convictions on their records.

The GOP-controlled House Agriculture Committee also posted a much shorter summary of its own separate version of the legislation. While it doesn’t contain any explicit references to hemp-related issues, a top industry group advised stakeholders not to “read too much into that” because they’ve had discussions with leadership on both sides and remain “hopeful that several items of our agenda will be incorporated.”

The Senate bill’s summary says it updates the definition of hemp and “lowers regulatory barriers for farmers who are growing industrial hemp for grain and fiber.”

It also removes the ban “on persons who were previously convicted of a felony relating to a controlled substance from participating in the program or producing hemp.”

The U.S. Hemp Roundtable is also calling attention to the lack of details around the proposed redefining of hemp, cautioning stakeholders about efforts by certain industry groups and prohibitionists to use the agriculture legislation to outright ban hemp-derived cannabinoid products that have “rescued the industry and farmers in recent years.”

Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the Roundtable, told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday that the association is “pleased to see the reductions in regulatory burdens for fiber and grain farmers and the repeal of the hemp felon ban for all hemp farmers in the Senate summary.”

“We look forward to seeing specifics when the language is released,” he said. “We’re also pleased that, so far, we have not seen any efforts to prohibit or federally criminalize hemp products that have been advocated recently in the last few weeks.”

Both of the hemp-focused proposals described in the Senate committee summary appear responsive to standalone legislation that’s been introduced this session to build upon the federal legalization of the crop under the previous 2018 Farm Bill. A press release from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the committee, notes that the legislation incorporates provisions from over 100 bills.

Bipartisan senators and House members last year filed legislation to reduce regulations on farmers that grow industrial hemp for non-extraction purposes. Under the measures, farmers that cultivate industrial hemp would no longer be subject to background checks in order to participate in the market, and they wouldn’t have to fulfill rigorous sampling and testing requirements.

With respect to lifting the felony conviction ban for hemp farmers, Reps. David Trone (D-MD), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Nancy Mace (R-SC) introduced the “Free to Grow Act” last March. They said upon introduction that it would end what they called a “discriminatory” federal policy barring people with prior felony drug convictions from owning or leading legal hemp businesses.

Pingree also introduced legislation last session titled the “Hemp Advancement Act” that would reduce regulatory barriers for hemp farmers cultivating the crop for fiber or grain, while enacting other changes favored by stakeholders such as increasing the THC threshold for legal hemp from 0.3 percent THC by dry weight to one percent.

The summary of the Senate bill does not mention any decision to increase the THC threshold, but the full text of the legislation has not yet been introduced. House members, for their part, have yet to release any details of how their bill might address the hemp industry’s concerns.

“This is a serious proposal that reflects bipartisan priorities to keep farmers farming, families fed, and rural communities strong,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the committee, said.

“The foundation of every successful Farm Bill is built on holding together the broad, bipartisan coalition of farmers, rural communities, nutrition and hunger advocates, researchers, conservationists, and the climate community. This is that bill, and I welcome my Republican colleagues to take it seriously and rejoin us at the negotiating table so we can finish our work by the end of the year. Farmers, families, and rural communities cannot wait any longer on the 2024 Farm Bill.”

Lawmakers and stakeholders have also been eyeing a number of other proposals that could be incorporated into the Farm Bill, including measures to free up hemp businesses to legally market products like CBD as dietary supplements or in the food supply.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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Meanwhile, the hemp market started to rebound in 2023 after suffering significant losses the prior year, the latest annual industry report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that was released last month found.

The data is the result of a survey that USDA mailed to thousands of hemp farmers across the U.S. in January. The first version of the department’s hemp report was released in early 2022, setting a “benchmark” to compare to as the industry matures.

Bipartisan lawmakers and industry stakeholders have sharply criticized FDA for declining to enact regulations for hemp-derived CBD, which they say is largely responsible for the economic stagnation.

To that end, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf testified before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee last month, where he faced questions about the agency’s position that it needed additional congressional authorization to regulate the non-intoxicating cannabinoid.

USDA is also reportedly revoking hemp licenses for farmers who are simultaneously growing marijuana under state-approved programs, underscoring yet another policy conflict stemming from the ongoing federal prohibition of some forms of the cannabis plant.

For the time being, the hemp industry continues to face unique regulatory hurdles that stakeholders blame for the crop’s value plummeting in the short years since its legalization. Despite the economic conditions, however, a recent report found that the hemp market in 2022 was larger than all state marijuana markets, and it roughly equaled sales for craft beer nationally.

Meanwhile, internally at USDA, food safety workers are being encouraged to exercise caution and avoid cannabis products, including federally legal CBD, as the agency observes an “uptick” in positive THC tests amid “confusion” as more states enact legalization.

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Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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