Washington, D.C., USA: The U.S. Senate by a vote of 86-11 on Thursday passed legislation that would legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity as part of an $867 billion Farm Bill – a wide-ranging agriculture and food policy legislation.
Hemp will be removed from the federal list of controlled substances and the cultivation, processing and sale of industrial hemp will be legalized as part of the legislation.
It also will allow researchers to apply for grants from the Agriculture Department and make hemp farmers eligible for crop insurance.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky praised the passage of the bill.
“I have heard from many Kentucky farmers who agree it’s time to remove the federal hurdles and give our state the opportunity to seize its full potential and once again become the national leader for hemp production. That is why I strongly advocated for this measure to be included in the Farm Bill,” McConnell said.
The Senate Farm Bill also lowered the adjusted gross income threshold at which farmers are no longer eligible for farm subsidies from $900,000 to $700,000.
It included fewer restrictions on Supplemental Nutrition Program — food stamp — benefits than the version of the bill passed in the House last week.
The House bill cut benefits by $9 billion over the next decade and strengthens the work requirements for those seeking the benefit.
The two bills will have to be reconciled before being sent to President Donald Trump for his approval.
“I have heard from many Kentucky farmers who agree it’s time to remove the federal hurdles and give our state the opportunity to seize its full potential and once again become the national leader for hemp production. That is why I strongly advocated for this measure to be included in the Farm Bill,” McConnell said in a statement after the farm bill passed the Senate.
“The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 will help Kentucky enhance its position as the leading state on hemp production. This legislation also will remove the federal barriers in place that have stifled the industry, which will help expand the domestic production of hemp. It will also give hemp researchers the chance to apply for competitive federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture – allowing them to continue their impressive work with the support of federal research dollars.” McConnell’s office also said in an earlier statement.
Cultivation of hemp for industrial purposes has been done by many civilizations for over 12,000 years. Industrial hemp was the desired fiber used to manufacture rope, canvas, paper, and clothing until alternative textiles and synthetics for these purposes were discovered.
Although China has been the largest hemp producer over the years, other countries such as Australia and Canada are catching up.
It has been illegal for anyone to grow hemp in the United States as hemp is illegal under the marijuana prohibition act.
17th Century America, farmers in Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut were ordered by law to grow Indian hemp. By the early 18th century, a person could be sentenced to jail if they weren’t growing hemp on their land! Hemp was considered to be legal tender. For over 200 years in colonial America, hemp was currency that one could use to pay their taxes with!
When Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, the decline of hemp effectively began. The tax and licensing regulations of the act made hemp cultivation nearly impossible for American farmers. Anslinger, the chief promoter of the Tax Act, argued for anti-marijuana legislation around the world.
From 1937 until the late 1960s the United States government recognized that Industrial Hemp and marijuana were two distinct varieties of the cannabis plant. After the Controlled Substances Act was passed, hemp was no longer recognized as being distinct from marijuana. McConnell’s Hemp Farming Act of 2018 appears about to change that.
Senate farm bill would also extend flood insurance program
The Senate farm bill also includes an amendment to extend the National Flood Insurance Program for another six months.
The amendment, sponsored by Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy, both Louisiana Republicans, would keep the flood insurance program from lapsing July 31. But the House has not included the amendment in its version of a farm bill, so it would need to be discussed in a conference committee.
“In the absence of reauthorizing legislation, the National Flood Insurance Program will lapse, in the middle of hurricane season, leaving more than 5 million American families and businesses vulnerable,” Kennedy said. “I don’t want people to be scared every time it rains.”
“Louisiana families depend on the National Flood Insurance Program for peace of mind and recovery after disaster,” said Cassidy. “We must preserve this program through hurricane season as we work on a long-term reauthorization that ensures the program is affordable and sustainable.”
Lawmakers have long expressed a desire to enact a flood insurance reform package, but there is significant disagreement on what it should look like, and differences tend to break down along geographic lines.
Efforts to reform the flood insurance program were stalled largely because Congress was prioritizing regulatory relief, which President Trump signed into law in May.
There is still time this year for senators to work on a long-term flood insurance reform bill. But the clock is also ticking on any congressional business as the November midterm elections approach.