2018 Hemp Farming Act- Status Report
With Congress back in session after the July 4 holiday I thought it would be a good time to give a quick rundown on the status of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 (Hemp Bill). We are entering a very important and uncertain time for the Hemp Bill.
Senator Mitch McConnell introduced the Hemp Bill, S.2667, on April 12, 2018. I wrote about it here. It was co-sponsored by Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. The Hemp Bill was rolled into the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Act) in early June, which easily passed the Senate on June 28 with an 86-11 vote. The current version of the Farm Act, the Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014 Farm Act), expires on September 30, 2018. It includes the industrial hemp provisions that currently govern the hemp industry. If the 2014 Farm Act is allowed to expire without a replacement then the US hemp industry will be in an uncertain state of flux (as will any number of other federal programs).
The House also passed a Farm Act, called the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, on June 21, 2018. The House Act does not include hemp provisions and was narrowly passed with no Democratic votes or support. The House Farm Act imposes strict new work requirements on adults seeking food stamps through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance (SNAP) program. The Senate version, which needed Democratic votes to pass, does not include any significant changes to food stamps. Senate Democrats have vowed to oppose changes to the SNAP program. Additionally, there is deep opposition to the Senate’s proposed changes to certain farm subsidies, namely, subsidies to farm managers who are not actively engaged in farm operations. Under the Senate version, these managers would lose out on the subsidy checks the USDA distributes when crop prices fall below predetermined levels. Also, there is deep disagreement over conservation funding. Although both the House and Senate bills reduce conservation funding the House bill makes deeper cuts. House Republicans have even proposed eliminating much of the Conservation Stewardship Program, which encourages farmers to address soil, air, and water quality.
The House and Senate versions of the Farm Act have to be reconciled in conference to create a compromise bill, which must then be passed by both the House and Senate before being sent to the President. Given the deep divisions and entrenched positions over the issues I mentioned above, not to mention any number of disagreements over smaller issues, we can expect a bitter fight to reconcile the two competing versions of the Farm Act.
In fact, and despite broad bi-partisan support for hemp, there is no guarantee that a 2018 Farm Act will be passed before the current one expires in September. Even if a compromise Farm Act is passed, there are no guarantees that it will include the favorable language contained in the 2018 Hemp Farming Act, or even include hemp provisions at all.
Congress returns to session on Monday, July 9, 2018 and will soon start the difficult work on reconciling the Senate and House versions of the Farm Act. Now is the time to contact your Senators and Representatives to let them know how important it is to pass a Farm Act with robust hemp provisions before October 1.