Hemp Policy and Legislative Update

Photo by Dan Skye

Later this week, Congressman James Comer (R-KY) will introduce the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, federal legislation that would “essentially remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing industrial cultivation of the plant,” a key objective of the National Hemp Association (NHA). The bill will also set a THC limit and provide for state regulation of the hemp industry and related companies.

Vote Hemp has also been working with Congress to refine the proposed legislation, successfully advocating for a provision to include Native American tribes and influencing a key compromise allowing research on hemp with an upper limit of 0.6 percent THC. (The designated THC threshold in hemp regulations has an impact on the cost of cultivation and research.)

On his website, Comer is proud of his past support for hemp, recalling that as Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture in 2011, he “promoted rural economic development by spearheading the successful effort to legalize industrial hemp and developed new branding initiatives for Kentucky farmers.”

Comer also hosted an industrial hemp expo earlier this year for lawmakers and entrepreneurs. Comer argues that “it’s absolutely ridiculous that the cultivation of hemp is still illegal at the federal level” and has told the leadership in the House of Representatives that this is his top priority this year.

A companion bill in the Senate is expected, after the bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives.

Vote Hemp has also been working with Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to include pro-hemp language in the current Appropriation’s bill to protect hemp pilot programs from interference from federal agencies, such as the Department of Justice.

Another hemp issue facing legislators and federal officials concerns water access. Kim Philips, a farmer in Montana licensed by the Montana Department of Agriculture, was denied water access for hemp by the Bureau of Reclamation.

Vote Hemp is in the process of sending the Bureau a legal reminder that industrial hemp is legal under federal law.  Sen. Michael Bennett from Colorado and five co-sponsors have introduced SB 1576 to address water access issues for hemp farmers authorized under state law.

Meanwhile, senior staff of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have met with Geoff Whaling, Board Chairman of the National Hemp Association, and reaffirmed a working relationship with the industry created by the 2014 Farm Bill—which established legal hemp development under federal law.

The USDA is currently considering nine requests for federal funding for hemp development research.  According to the NHA, “the USDA will support hemp pilot projects, considering grant and loan applications and other means of funding.” Whaling says that “all hemp industry participants are encouraged to participate in these funding opportunities.”

At the recent Industrial Hemp Expo, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said: “We have made tremendous strides in recent years to open the market for research and cultivation of industrial hemp.”

Significant progress has occurred at both the state and federal levels, and momentum is building for further reform.

Once introduced, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act will require public support to encourage Congress to act on this important legislation to help revitalize farming in the United States and advance hemp-related economic development.

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