Industrial Hemp has emerged somewhat quietly yet increasing quickly as an issue across the country over the past several years. For American consumers, Hemp has gone from rope and burlap to a wide variety of new products from high protein superfoods to building materials for homes. This week marks the 5th annual Hemp History Week, a national education campaign to bring to light the amazing benefits of hemp, and the amazingly ludicrous policy an overreaching U.S. Government continues to enforce. This year there are over 1,300 events nationwide, held at grocery stores, restaurants and community spaces.
Members of Congress have certainly taken note of this, and everything has been growing so much that the past two weeks has seen more activity in Congress with hemp than the entire decade combined. Last week, the House of Representatives voted to support not one, but two bipartisan amendments. and both passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Yesterday, hemp language was debated in Senate, where the Appropriations committee again voted overwhelmingly to support industrial hemp research. In Congress these days, it's hard to get anything done on a bipartisan basis. How did industrial hemp manage to get so far so fast?
The paving of this new road began last year, during the tedious process to pass a comprehensive, bipartisan farm bill. While controversy over the SNAP program raged, a short bipartisan amendment was filed as the "Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research". This amendment, which defined industrial hemp for the first time, was also the first time hemp had been brought to the House floor. But what was surprising, was that the amendment didn't just pass, it passed with with the strong bipartisan support of 225 members of Congress.
In the Conference Committee, this language was quietly being expanded, to allow not only Universities, but also State Departments of Agriculture to oversee licensed research and pilot programs. This expansion means that farmers and businesses can participate in the research, and signed into law at the beginning of 2014.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA), lead by Jamie Comer, acted immediately to implement these programs. They licensed several projects and worked out all of the rules and regulations. All was going as planned and authorized by law -- until just a few weeks ago when the Drug Enforcement Administration seized 250 pounds of the agricultural hemp seed. This move by the DEA has been criticized as a waste of taxpayer funds and even an unlawful, and lead to tense negotiations between State and Federal officials. With deadline for planting season quickly approaching, the KDA had to file a lawsuit against the DEA to retrieve the seed.
The DEA has since released the seed under a temporary agreement, but whether the DEA is breaking the law is up for debate. Last week Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Congresswoman Bonamici (D-OR) each introduced amendments to limit DEA funding. Both of them passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, (246 - 162, 237- 170, respectively) surprising everyone hemp industry insiders and congressional staffers alike. The House vote then set the stage for the Senate, and the drama played out yesterday morning just after 10 am.
A back and forth between several Senators lead to a strongly bipartisan vote of 22-8, which solidifies the intent of Congress as opening the door for industrial hemp research to begin immediately.
This week, tens of thousands of people across the country are celebrating the history of hemp farming and learning about the benefits and opportunities it could bring now. Here in Washington, DC, Congress is simultaneously making history, by passing bipartisan, carbon-reducing, cut spending legislation that actually makes perfect sense. This isn't just a bill -- it illustrates a special moment, when Congress put all partisan politic and campaign contributions aside, to agree to move forward to build a new American industry.