Pressure Mounts to Pass the 2018 Farm Bill
As the midterm elections have concluded, the attention of the 2018 Farm Bill conference committee—also referred to as the House and Senate Agriculture Committee—shifts back to finalizing an updated version of the Farm Bill. As the 2014 version expired on September 30, the pressure is beginning to mount to have a new version on the president’s desk by the end of the year. Several analysts and committee members are optimistic that the 2018 Farm Bill will pass by the end of the year. Let’s take a look at why the 2018 Farm Bill has been held up and what to expect from the new bill.
Why the 2018 Farm Bill has Stalled
For a bill to pass into law under the current legislative system, Representatives and Senators prepare two versions of the same bill in the House and Senate respectively. Upon passage of these bills the House and the Senate create a bipartisan conference committee to merge the separate bills into one, which is then sent to the Executive branch for a signature into law. The 2018 Farm bill has been significantly delayed in the process of creating a single conforming bill. As of now, the committee is reconvening since breaking for the midterm elections. The goal of the Farm Bill committee now focuses on solving the following disagreements over what the final version of the bill ought to include.
The Senate version of the Agriculture Improvement Act, commonly referred to as the Farm Bill, passed on June 28, 2018 by a wide margin of 68 yeas, 11 nays, and three absent. This bill includes the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, that would effectively legalize CBD and hemp products outside of state pilot programs and research institutions. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KN) has worked closely with Senator Ronnie Cromer (R-SC) drafting and supporting an amendment within the Farm Bill that includes the Hemp Farming Act.
Most Senators (Republican and Democrat) and many Democratic Representatives believe that legalizing CBD and hemp products in the US will allow for greater crop diversity for farmers given hemp’s versatility as a textile. The federal legalization of hemp and CBD will also open avenues for future business opportunities throughout the country, and provide citizens access to the medicinal and health effects CBD provides.
In McConnell’s view hemp is vital to the health of the agriculture industry. “I will advocate for Kentucky’s multi-billion-dollar agriculture industry. … Additionally, I will strongly advocate to legalize industrial hemp,” Senator McConnell has said.
The House passed their version of the Farm Bill strictly along party lines. All but two Republican Representatives voted in favor, while all Democrats voted against. The primary cause for this split is due to stringent SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) work requirements, reduction of conservation efforts, and lack of farming subsidies. Legislatures allowed the 2014 Farm Bill to expire on September 30 due to failure on the part of the conference committee to reach a compromise before the midterm recess. The House version of the bill does not include the Hemp Farming Act and would essentially maintain the current hemp laws in America.
However, the main controversy over the new bill stems from the stringent work requirements for food stamp recipients. Food stamps are part of the SNAP program, commonly referred to as SNAPs. This provision is what split the vote along party lines in the first place and continues to be an issue. Under the House provision, Democrats fear that individuals without children will be disenfranchised since the provisions require those receiving SNAPs to be either be employed or in a work program to receive aid if they have no dependents. A simulation of this provision proved that the rules would eliminate over two million people currently eligible to receive benefits from the program.
Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-ID) proposed a similar provision, but the Senate swiftly struck down these measures and moved forward with a bipartisan approach. McConnell has warned the House that the Farm Bill committee will attempt to abide by the bipartisan consensus achieved through the Senate version of the bill. This approach would be difficult if the House Representatives appointed to the committee refuse to drop the proposed cuts to the SNAP program.
As for the hemp industry, the most pressing concern going into the committee negotiations has nothing to do with hemp or CBD but instead focuses on the work requirements for SNAPs recipients. Democrats will do everything in their power to prevent the passage of a bill with such stringent requirements and Republicans seem determined to add them into the bill. This party line has and will continue to cause delay. This delay is burdensome for the hemp industry for several reasons.
- The delay causes concern over the already uneasy question of legality surrounding hemp products, and many sources speculate that the delay has something to do with the rescheduling amendment of the Senate bill. However, this is not proven accurate, but instead demonstrates the prevailing sentiment of unease.
- States are passing laws left and right trying to comply with the confusing and inconsistent language of the last Farm Bill in conjuncture with the actions of the DEA and FDA.
- State boards are attempting to preempt whatever move the federal government might make in an effort to maintain their federal funding. This results in laws that are unenforceable and creates general confusion and suspicion around the hemp industry.
What To Expect From the New Farm Bill
Exactly what will remain or be removed from the final version of the bill is still left to speculation due to delay. Analysts support the Senate version for a number of reasons, but the president currently stands behind the House version.
The main differences that will be up for negotiation include the rescheduling and clarification of hemp and CBD as a legal substance, SNAP worker requirements, conservation laws, crop insurance, and environmental protection issues.
The partisan nature of the SNAP worker requirements makes it the most publicized challenge standing before the Farm Bill committee and an executive signing, but the other issues will also prove complicated to navigate, especially with executive pressure to avoid compromise and reach a bipartisan consensus. That said, the new hemp laws that many lawmakers hoped would ease the market for farmers and businesses alike, have wide support at the federal level, which gives us all hope for the eventual passage.
To voice your support for the federal legalization of industrial hemp visit https://bit.ly/2DCS1oV.