Short-term funding legislation introduced today by the U.S. House of Representatives, intended to keep the government funded until December 11 and avoid a shutdown by the end of this month, includes a win for hemp industry stakeholders: an extension of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) hemp pilot program through September 2021.
While the 2014 Farm Bill first allowed for hemp pilot programs, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp and tasked the USDA with crafting regulations for hemp cultivation coast-to-coast. The USDA’s interim final rule was released last October, and states were given one year to transition out of pilot programs and to align with the new rules. (Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of the interim final rule, public comment, and early reactions from ag regulators.)
The upcoming October deadline has received significant pushback from hemp regulators and the hemp industry, who say they need more time. Lawmakers and the USDA have received letters from the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the National Industrial Hemp Council, Senators Cory Gardner and Chuck Schumer, and others, asking not only for the extension, but also a reconsideration of some aspects of the proposed regulations. For example, there is intense focus on the proposed method of testing for THC, and what happens to non-compliant crops, as well as on interstate transport.
“We’re thrilled. This is something that we’ve been lobbying for for the last several months,” Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, told Cannabis Wire, adding that while he initially hoped this language would move forward as part of the House Agriculture Appropriations bill, “it became clear that the appropriations bills were not going to get there” before the expiration.
“We are very hopeful that it will make its way through the House and the Senate, on to the President’s desk, and give another year of flexibility to hemp farmers,” he said.
Cannabis Wire asked about the U.S. Hemp Roundtable’s lobbying efforts, and Miller said that he and another lobbyist with the organization have been calling and emailing key lawmakers to “urge” them to draft legislation to delay the deadline. They’ve also been pushing on grassroots lobbying through a portal on their site that allows hemp stakeholders to contact their legislators.
“While I hope that the work we do as traditional lobbyists is helpful, I do say that the grassroots lobbying is even more important, because that’s the members of Congress hearing from their constituents, the people who vote them in and out of office,” Miller said.
While the GOP-controlled Senate has been reluctant to take up cannabis legislation, there are plenty of Republican hemp supporters in Congress, perhaps the most noteworthy being Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Zachary Gihorski, associate director of public policy for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, told Cannabis Wire that the hemp pilot program extension was “quite meaningful.”
“I think it really is just reassuring the American public that hemp is a viable agricultural commodity. And we want it to be in our communities and we want it to grow and flourish. They could have chosen not to act, and it would have hurt some American farmers through no fault of their own,” Gihorski said.
Correction: this article has been updated. A previous version misspelled Zachary Gihorski’s last name.