Democratic Lawmakers Seek to Bolster Hemp Industry Through 2023 Farm Bill

Democratic Lawmakers Seek to Bolster Hemp Industry Through 2023 Farm Bill

The pro-business moderate group wants to use the upcoming renewal of the Farm Bill to help bolster the ailing industry.

Battle lines are being drawn on Capitol Hill as legislators from both sides of the political aisle are gearing up for a showdown over how to manage the much-maligned and misunderstood hemp industry. Last week, the Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA), a group of state cannabis regulators, sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate agriculture committees asking them to include provisions in the 2023 Farm Bill that will address the current problems plaguing the market.


In that letter, CANNRA members stipulate five specific adjustments they would like to see adopted in the 2023 version of the legislation.

  1. Add a definition for "Hemp-Derived Cannabinoid Products;"
  2. Define THC in terms of both THCA and delta-9 THC;
  3. Clarify that the 0.3 percent THC threshold applies only to the plant and name a federal regulator to set appropriate limits for intermediate or final hemp-derived cannabinoid products;
  4. Name a federal regulatory agency with a timeline for implementing regulations to protect consumer safety;
  5. Ensure that states can go beyond federal policies (which should set minimum standards) to protect consumer safety and public health.

Many hemp industry advocates and stakeholders view this attack by CANNRA as a blatant attempt by Big Cannabis interests to crush the hemp-derived low-dose THC market, which would effectively destroy thousands of small to medium-sized businesses currently struggling to survive in the already dicey waters of the troubled sector.


In response to the CANNRA letter, Rod Kight, founder and partner of the Kight Law Firm, a hemp and cannabis legal firm, said, "If enacted, CANNA's proposed definition of 'hemp' would destroy thousands of small and mid-sized legal businesses, end the jobs of many thousands of employees of hemp businesses, terminate the end markets that hemp farmers rely on for their crops, remove legal access to cannabis from millions of Americans, and preserve a monopoly by a handful of multinationals on a plant that is easily grown and which should be and is currently almost) fully available to most people."


"If enacted, CANNA's proposed definition of 'hemp' would destroy thousands of small and mid-sized legal businesses, end the jobs of many thousands of employees of hemp businesses, terminate the end markets that hemp farmers rely on for their crops, remove legal access to cannabis from millions of Americans, and preserve a monopoly by a handful of multinationals on a plant that is easily grown and which should be and is currently almost) fully available to most people."

- Rod Kight, Attorney and Partner at the Kight Law Firm


Now, according to multiple media outlets, a group of almost 100 House members (mostly Democrats) is proposing complementary legislation to the upcoming Farm Bill renewal that would reduce regulatory burdens on industrial hemp growers. The New Democrat Coalition, which describes itself as "united behind a mission to build an economy that works for every American," unveiled its legislative endorsement slate on Monday detailing policy priorities for lawmakers as they begin the daunting task of crafting the 2023 version of the massive and vital Farm Bill.


One of the 44 measures they aim to incorporate into the must-pass agricultural and social equity spending behemoth is the Industrial Hemp Act from Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA). The 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp cultivation, production, manufacturing and marketing, has come under intense scrutiny since its passage.


The controversial bill legally defines hemp as any part of the cannabis sativa plant containing less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC. However, it stopped short of providing any regulatory clarity or guidance on monitoring and developing safety guidelines for the flood of hemp-derived products that soon overwhelmed the market.


As a result, a few unregulated and potentially dangerous products, like specific chemically synthesized versions of the infamous and predominantly mischaracterized delta-8 THC cannabinoid, entered the market and led to some tragic consequences. In response, several states enacted laws restricting or outright banning the sale of products containing delta-8.


The New Democrat Coalition hopes to address some of the health, safety, and economic issues surrounding the hemp industry without taking a sledgehammer to the market, as proposed by the CANNRA letter.


The Industrial Hemp Act seeks to distinguish between "industrial" hemp used for producing products like fiber and "hemp for any purpose, " including crops grown to extract cannabinoids like the popular and versatile CBD. Under the proposed legislation, farmers working in the industrial hemp sector would no longer have to endure demanding background checks to work in the industry.


The new measure would also prohibit states and Native American Tribes from trying to enact provisions on industrial hemp growers that are more restrictive than the ones included in the bill. Furthermore, it provides language banning any individual who knowingly cultivates hemp plants inconsistent with their assigned designation from the legal hemp sector for five years.


The caucus' farm bill task force leaders said in a statement, "New Dems will continue working diligently with our colleagues in both parties and with stakeholders to advance a Farm Bill that includes these endorsed bills and rejects efforts to undermine investments in America's agricultural future."


"New Dems will continue working diligently with our colleagues in both parties and with stakeholders to advance a Farm Bill that includes these endorsed bills and rejects efforts to undermine investments in America's agricultural future."

- Statement from the New Democrat Coalition


Political insiders and hemp industry analysts do not believe this is the only hemp-related legislation lawmakers from the New Dems group will attempt to incorporate into the 2023 Farm Bill. With the market reeling from several years of rapid decline, congressional leaders with constituencies heavily invested in hemp are determined to keep the industry from failing.


The legislative custody battle over which side will ultimately prevail is just beginning. Hopefully, when all the dust settles, the interests of thousands of hard-working and imaginative Americans comprising the hemp sector will win out over the financial greed and bullying tactics of Big Cannabis.