Bipartisan Bill Aims to Protect Hemp Farmers from Federal Pot Crackdown

Javier Rodriguez helps harvest some of the 27 acres of hemp on Andy Graves farm near Winchester, Ky., on Oct. 22, 2015. (Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

WASHINGTON — Oregon and Kentucky senators have banded together to legalize hemp, after previous calls from the legislators on the attorney general to reassure the industry that it wouldn’t be hurt by Jeff Sessions’ marijuana crackdown.

In a letter to Sessions last summer, Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) were among the senators warning the attorney general that some participants in legal hemp industrial research and production “have either had their personal and business accounts closed at financial institutions or are facing the possibility of losing them… due to the uncertainty of the continued legal status of the industrial hemp industry, and because the funds contained in the accounts are associated with industrial hemp.”

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) joined those senators to introduce the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, which would de-list hemp as a controlled substance and define it as an agricultural commodity.

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) is the sponsor of the companion version in the House.

Under the legislation, states would become the primary regulators of hemp and hemp farmers would be able to apply for crop insurance.

“It is far past time for Congress to pass this commonsense, bipartisan legislation to end the outrageous anti-hemp, anti-farmer and anti-jobs stigma that’s been codified into law and is holding back growth in American agriculture jobs and our economy at large,” Wyden said in a statement. “Hemp products are made in this country, sold in this country and consumed in this country.”

“Senator McConnell, our colleagues and I are going to keep pushing to make sure that if Americans can buy hemp products at the local supermarket, American farmers can grow hemp in this country,” he added.

McConnell said the legislation would “build upon the success of the hemp pilot programs” authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill “and spur innovation and growth within the industry.”

“By legalizing hemp and empowering states to conduct their own oversight plans, we can give the hemp industry the tools necessary to create jobs and new opportunities for farmers and manufacturers around the county,” he said.

Merkley argued that it’s “past time that we move beyond these outdated and frustrating restrictions on hemp farming in the United States.”

“If we’re selling hemp products in the United States, we should be growing hemp in the United States – it’s good for jobs, good for our communities, and it’s just common sense,” he said.