WASHINGTON (CN) - A provision reclassifying industrial hemp from a federally-controlled substance to an agricultural commodity was successfully wedged into the 2018 Farm Bill Thursday, marking a significant step toward making the cannabis-based byproduct fully mainstream.
The provision was incorporated after Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, negotiated with members of the agricultural committees in both the House and Senate to see it included in the
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, or as it also known, the 2018 Farm Bill.
The bill, which proposes $867 billion for food and other agricultural programs, stalled in the senate for months but according to a joint statement released by the Senate and House Agricultural committees Thursday, an “agreement in principle” for the legislation’s passage was struck.
The greater bill proposes renewals for farm subsidies, crop insurance and food stamp programs for low income families.
With McConnell’s provision, farmers would also be allowed to obtain crop insurance for their industrial hemp.
The legislation must be scored by the Congressional Budget Office first and then lawmakers must hold a floor vote in both the House and Senate to pass it. With success, the next stop is President Donald Trump’s desk for signature.
In a statement Thursday, Justin Strekal, the political director for NORML, a non-profit organization which advocates for the reform of marijuana laws, said the hemp provision represents a “long overdue” shift in U.S. policy.
For years, hemp producers have navigated the sale and manufacture of hemp products in a “grey area of the law,” Strekal said, forcing them to jeopardize both the quality and safety of their products.
If Congress can pass the Farm Bill - and keep the hemp provision in - it would mean state governments, not the federal government, would control how to regulate hemp products.
Including the provision is a victory for McConnell who has pushed for industrial hemp legislation since 2014 when he first proposed a provision for that year’s farm bill that instituted hemp research programs without federal approval.
McConnell told reporters on Nov. 9 that he visited a series of hemp processers in the United States and saw the potential for the plant was considerable.
“I don’t want to overstate this, I don’t know if it’s going to be the next tobacco or not, but I do think it has a lot of potential … [not only] in terms of food and medicine but also car parts. I mean, it’s an extraordinary plant,” McConnell said.
Like it was in 2014, the provision inserted Thursday includes language allowing state-licensed hemp producers to conduct research and engage in commerce but for the first time ever, the provision’s language amends the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
Industrial hemp plants containing no more than 0.3-percent of the psychoactive component THC will be considered a schedule I controlled substance under the bill.
Lawmakers are expected to vote on the farm bill by the end of the year.