A Bipartisan Strike Against Our Ridiculous War on Weed

While we’re all focused on the dysfunction coming from Washington (which is plentiful), there have been some interesting bipartisan efforts taking place in Congress. As I wrote previously, if the media were to actually pay attention to what’s happening, it would deal a death blow to their addiction to bothsiderism when it comes to partisan obstruction.

Democrats worked with Republicans to develop the First Step Act, which could be the first victory on criminal justice reform in decades. A bill passed the House months ago, but Majority Leader McConnell continues to drag his feet on bringing it up for a vote in the Senate. He is probably worried about the objections of hard-liners like Sen. Tom Cotton, who has led the fight against the bill’s passage.

The other legislation that has garnered bipartisan support is the re-authorization of the farm bill. It passed in both the House and Senate, but each chamber included items the other did not. Hardliners in the House insisted on work requirements for people on food stamps, a provision that would never pass in the Senate. On the other hand, one of McConnell’s pet projects has been to include the legalization of industrial hemp in the farm bill.

The conference committee created to iron out those differences has now completed their work. The language of their bill is slated to be available early next week, with voting on the legislation scheduled for Friday. The good news is that the work requirements for food stamp recipients have been removed and the legalization of industrial hemp is in.

If you’d like a good primer on what it means to legalize industrial hemp, I wrote a piece about that back in September. To summarize, hemp has a long history of legal use in this country, but production was halted by the 1970 Controlled Substances Act because of its genetic linkage to marijuana. In 2014, Congress passed language in the farm bill allowing pilot projects in the states to grow and research hemp. There are now 39 participating states, giving rise to the growing chorus advocating for its legalization.

The major impacts of legalizing industrial hemp will be that farmers will be able to finance their operations via banks and qualify for crop insurance. In addition, the legislation removes hemp from the list of Schedule I substances, which allows for more research on its benefits. That is particularly true for the biggest cash crop that hemp has recently unleashed on the market: cannabidiol, or CBD.

“In addition, CBD is now being researched and proven to the missing answer to a number of health issues that traditional pharmaceuticals can’t address,” adds Thompson. “The new hemp language paves the way for the ‘unbridling’ of the industry as hemp is reclassified into an agricultural commodity.”

Thompson notes research is showing the positive impact of hemp-derived CBD can have on veterans, especially helping those who suffer with PTSD or are at risk of opioid addiction. “Some financial experts are now predicting that hemp-derived CBD will overtake medical marijuana,” he adds. “All the benefits with none of the side effects.”

Since hemp-derived CBD oil (“cannabidiol”) only has trace amounts of THC, this is an appropriate measure – now, this potentially powerful plant can be more easily accessed by those who really need it, according to Thompson.

There is one more piece of news coming out of the conference committee working on the farm bill. Back in September, I noted this:

The farm bill’s language precludes people with drug-felony convictions from cultivating hemp, which means that many people with experience growing cannabis in the form of marijuana would be federally prohibited from growing its sister plant. Despite the relative success of the campaign to distinguish hemp from pot, it hasn’t been able to shake this relic of hemp’s history; Politico reported that the provision was added in early July to appease Grassley.

Apparently, that provision has been modified.

The farm bill’s original version would have banned nearly all drug felons from growing hemp. But advocates have learned that thanks to a compromise, the bill would allow such felons to grow hemp beginning 10 years after their conviction.

Any felons now growing hemp, which was permitted on a more narrow basis under a 2014 farm bill, would be allowed to continue.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who has been working to eliminate the exclusion of drug felons notes that, while this is an improvement from the original language, “restricting hemp cultivation makes as much sense as restricting who can grow corn.”

It is interesting to note that the strain of hemp that produces CBD has much more in common with marijuana plants than it does the traditional hemp strain grown for its fiber. The expertise of people who have grown weed for its recreational and medicinal use will be in demand by those who want to cash in on this new commodity that is expected to grow “40 times larger than the nearly $600 million posted in 2018.” That could present a lot of new opportunities for those who had previously been caught up in this country’s ridiculous war on weed.

P.S. Apparently Canada is already way ahead of us.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .