Hemp nears legalization in U.S. after Senate passes Farm Bill
The Senate passed a five-year farm bill renewing agricultural subsidies and food aid for low-income families after weeks of negotiations over work requirements for food stamp recipients and a last-minute snag over forestry provisions.
The US$867 billion measure, which also would extend federal crop insurance, was approved on a vote of 87-13 after lawmakers negotiating the final package scrapped a provision that would have toughened work requirements for older food stamp recipients and those with older children. The provision had been included in the House version of the measure with support from President Donald Trump.
“Let us tell those farmers and ranchers and growers that are going through tough times that they’re going to be good for the next five years,” Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Agriculture Committee, said on the Senate Floor.
Once the House votes final approval, the measure, H.R. 2, would go to Trump for his expected signature. Farm programs under current law began to expire Sept. 30. “We made the compromises we needed to make to get this deal done,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas told reporters last month.
Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday that “the farm bill is in very good shape,” and “our farmers are well taken care of."
The bill found a champion in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who cheered the inclusion of a provision that would make hemp a legal agricultural commodity, a boon to some farmers in his home state.
Under the farm bill, hemp would be removed from the federal list of controlled substances and hemp farmers will be able to apply for crop insurance. Unlike its biological cousin marijuana, hemp has industrial uses and doesn’t produce a “high” if ingested. Proponents say it has other therapeutic uses, such as easing pain and anxiety.
A provision that would have imposed a lifetime ban on people with drug-related felonies from working in the hemp industry was reduced to a 10-year ban. The legislation also includes an exemption letting farmers already growing hemp under existing research authority continue their operations.
The bill doesn’t include a provision supported by Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, aimed at preventing wealthy absentee landlords from collecting farm subsidies. Grassley said Tuesday that he wouldn’t vote for the bill because of the issue.
While the legislation wouldn’t change the age limit or work requirements for food aid recipients able to work and without dependents, it would require governors to sign off on state requests for work requirement waivers in areas with high unemployment. Currently, able-bodied adults under age 50 without dependents are expected to work at least 20 hours a week or be in a training program to obtain benefits. But states can request waivers from those requirements for high-unemployment areas.
Another snag resolved by negotiators was a push by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to enact more permissive logging regulations. Such provisions weren’t included in the final legislation, according to a Democratic aide.