Bill Reforms the Ban On Prior Drug Offenders Participating in the Hemp Industry
Rep. Chellie Pingree’s congressional bill, the “Hemp Advancement Act,” plans to reform the 2018 Farm Bill’s ban of people who have faced drug-related felonies from participating in the hemp industry.
We’re weighing if the move’s a good idea or a disaster in the making.
The Hemp Advancement Act Seeks Three Critical Reforms From the 2018 Farm Bill
Rep. Pingree of Maine announced on Twitter last February 8, 2022, that she has introduced a bill that would make three “common sense” changes in the 2018 Farm Bill that famously legalized the production of hemp at the federal level.
The Hemp Advancement Act:
- Increases the legal THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) threshold of hemp-based products from 0.3 percent to 1 percent on a dry weight basis.
Additionally, the bill removes any THC limits during in-hemp processing as long as the final product does not exceed the enforced 1% THC threshold. This frees manufacturers from the liability of temporarily exceeding the THC threshold during hemp extraction.
- Removes the requirement of undergoing tests from DEA (the United States Drug Enforcement Administration)-registered only laboratories.
There is currently a limited number of such laboratories in the country. There are only two DEA-registered laboratories in New England while Pingree says there is no single DEA-registered laboratory in Maine.
- Allows prior drug offenders to participate in the hemp industry, deleting Farm Bill’s 10-year employment ban on people with drug-related felony records starting from the year of conviction.
The bill is currently gaining supporters from groups like the U.S. Hemp Roundtable and Americans for Safe Access and Hemp Industries Association. And will seem to enjoy bipartisan support.
Bill Fosters Progressive View On Giving Second Chances
The proposal which allows people with prior drug felony records to be legal hemp growers is founded on the idea of anti-discrimination and another shot to a fresh start.
Farm Bill’s ban on these people indirectly purveys disparities on races and those of low-income status. People from the Black and Latinx communities and those coming from low-income households have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs.
Nearly 60 percent of the drug prison population are either Black or Latino.
Pingree says, in a conversation with Marijuana Moment, “This ban treats hemp as if it was a controlled substance, and that people are trying to somehow engage in drug dealing or nefarious activities.”
“As we all know, hemp is an agricultural crop, it has a whole different purpose. And like all agricultural enterprises right now, we have a labor shortage.”
“To prohibit people with what seems like a very antiquated, backwards rule, it’s just damaging to the industry and for those individuals who want to participate,” as per Pingree. “I hope we see smooth sailing on eliminating that ban.”
Ironically, cannabis companies like Green Thumb Industries and Evidence have been buying former prison compounds, setting them as locations for growing cannabis and as manufacturing sites.
Green Thumb Industries CEO Ben Kovler hopes to be a pioneer in hiring former drug inmates soon.
Does the 2018 Farm Bill Have Sensible and Founded Reasons for Banning People With Drug-Related Felony Records?
Let’s make this clear. The 2018 Farm Bill’s banning of former drug-related felons does not intend to do harm nor discriminate.Tweet
The restriction only reflects the ongoing practice of the law limiting industry participation from people who transgressed in the same industry (at least serially). Take Billy McFarland of the infamous Fyre Festival.
To protect the industry and its people from being spoiled again by wrongdoers, such practice is habitually put into place.
The 2018 Farm Bill in its first draft enforces a lifetime ban on anyone “convicted of a felony related to a controlled substance under state or federal law.” Hemp entrepreneurs and other advocates are not happy with this version.
This “lifetime ban” 2018 Farm Bill version came after hemp skeptics tried removing CBD (cannabidiol) production from the bill in fear of seeing a lax on THC levels in legal hemp.
According to Geoff Whaling, head of the National Hemp Association, in conversation with Hemp Industry Daily, the felon ban part of the bill is deemed necessary to appease the opposition.
It was a decision between including the felon ban or having no bill legalizing hemp at all.
There are many factors playing during the legislative process. Lawmakers understand that passing bills is a negotiating process between naysayers and supporters. Both sides have to sacrifice something to appease each other.
Thus, right before it finally reaches Trump’s desk, the 2018 Farm Bill has made a compromise to only ban for 10 years, from the date of the conviction.
In May 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) issued legal guidance on the eligibility of drug-related felons from participating in the industry. They clarified that there is an exception to this prohibition.
The exception applies to “a person who was lawfully producing hemp under the 2014 Farm Bill before December 20, 2018, and who had been convicted of a felony relating to a controlled substance before that date.”
However, such persons are advised to be aware of state- or municipal-level prohibitions that may be banning participation in the same industry.
Logically, Rep. Pingree’s suggestion is a good idea in the sense that we get to see what would happen if we flip the side of the coin. Laws, at some level, can be amended anyways.
If we are to include morale in the conversation, some states like California and Massachusetts recognized the indirect disparities the bill’s ban inflicts on communities who have felt the uneven force of the law. So seen that these states enacted policies clearing marijuana convictions, allocating marijuana tax revenue to the victims of the War on Drugs, and encouraging the participation of such communities in the growing hemp industry.