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Lawmakers Seek To End Hemp Industry Ban For Past Drug Offenders

Congressional legislators have introduced a bill to end the policy of barring people with prior drug convictions from running hemp businesses.

This week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers offered up legislation that would effectively end what they deem a "discriminatory" practice of banning individuals with previous felony drug convictions from owning and operating hemp-based companies. As first reported by Marijuana Moment, Reps. David Trone (D-MD), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Nancy Mace (R-SC) are jointly sponsoring the "Free to Grow Act," which specifically takes aim at the 2018 Farm Bill's past conviction provision.


The Farm Bill is a massive spending bill that Congress renegotiates and renews every five years. About 80% of the $428 billion measure goes to fund nutrition programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps. The five-year bill also helps shape rural development and what crops American farmers cultivate.


As regular readers of this blog will attest, the 2018 version of the bill, while also addressing many of those issues, has become somewhat infamous for what seemed a relatively small inclusion at the time but has now become one of the most contentious and financially crucial parts of the bellwether legislation. As part of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp was removed from the Controlled Substances Act and became legal to cultivate and use as a raw material for manufacturing hemp-derived products, most notably CBD.


Since the bill's ratification, hemp cultivation, and the hemp-derived product market has exploded across the United States and globally. The CBD market alone was valued at $4.9 billion at the end of 2021 and is expected to grow to over $47.22 billion by 2028. Other items like hemp-derived low-THC edibles and beverages, environmentally-friendly construction materials, eco-safe bioplastics and food products are just a few of the potentially lucrative and beneficial offerings available via the hemp industry.


As a result of these remarkable opportunities, many forward-thinking politicians and entrepreneurs view hemp and its array of agricultural and business applications as vital for the 21st global economy. But, unfortunately, one massive societal blindspot in that progress involves banning people with past federal drug convictions from owning or running hemp businesses in the 2018 iteration of the Farm Bill.


The new legislation offered up by this quartet of Democratic and Republican lawmakers hopes to eradicate the practice and open the door for those individuals severely stigmatized and limited by the punitive clause in the Farm Bill's current language. The measure would remove language from the bill disallowing those convicted of a felony drug offense in the past ten years from serving in certain positions at a licensed hemp company.


As Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) shared in her press release on the bill, "The upcoming Farm Bill gives Congress a once-in-five-years opportunity to correct the unfair policy that bans people with drug convictions from growing hemp. I am proud to join Reps. Trone, Joyce, and Mace in that effort by introducing the Free to Grow Act, addressing this injustice and supporting a thriving hemp economy."


"The upcoming Farm Bill gives Congress a once-in-five-years opportunity to correct the unfair policy that bans people with drug convictions from growing hemp. I am proud to join Reps. Trone, Joyce, and Mace in that effort by introducing the Free to Grow Act, addressing this injustice and supporting a thriving hemp economy."

- Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME)


Pingree has been an outspoken critic of many of the hemp components of the Farm Bill and has long advocated for change to those aspects of the legislation she views as limiting and detrimental to the industry and its stakeholders. In previous legislative sessions, along with filing bills to remove the felony conviction clause, she also introduced measures to increase the THC threshold for legal hemp (currently less than 0.3% delta-9 THC) and eliminate the requirement that the crop is tested only at DEA-certified laboratories.


Several advocacy organizations, including the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Americans for Prosperity (AFP), DREAM.Org, Due Process Institute, Minorities for Medical Marijuana Cannabis & Hemp Policy, R St Institute and the U.S. Hemp Roundtable comprise a coalition of groups supporting the reform.


As the societal carnage left in the wake of marijuana prohibition has become better understood, the movement, among groups like these and progressive-minded lawmakers, to end the cultural and economic hardships imposed on those individuals trying to return to society after their incarceration has begun to gain momentum on Capitol Hill and in statehouses across the country.


Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) may have put it best in her statement on the legislation by saying, "Reentering society after paying your debts is hard enough. Let's not put more restrictions on an already legal business for these people. Hemp is legal and used for a variety of circumstances, including stress and skin conditions. The bipartisan Free to Grow Act will lift this prohibition on the restriction and allow those formerly incarcerated to thrive in the hemp industry."


"Reentering society after paying your debts is hard enough. Let's not put more restrictions on an already legal business for these people. Hemp is legal and used for a variety of circumstances, including stress and skin conditions. The bipartisan Free to Grow Act will lift this prohibition on the restriction and allow those formerly incarcerated to thrive in the hemp industry."

- Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC)


The hemp plant has the potential to be one of the most transformative agricultural, health and wellness, environmental and economic super crops moving forward in this crucial and history-defining century. As climate change, overpopulation and economic disparity cause world leaders to look for effective solutions, industries like hemp and its myriad of permutations could provide life-altering and planet-saving solutions.


Short-sighted limitations like this outdated punitive clause cannot be allowed to get in the way of the progress this plant provides nor the innovation some of those talented individuals may have to offer.


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