WASHINGTON — The attempt to move industrial hemp legalization through the Senate as part of the farm bill is running into stiff resistance from law enforcement, threatening to derail the effort.
Hemp is a non-psychoactive relative of marijuana that is banned for its familial association. Hemp products are legal to import and sell in the United States, but the plant cannot be grown without a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration — which, unsurprisingly, the agency rarely grants.
Legalizing hemp crops has the backing of two Kentucky Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and tea party favorite Sen. Rand Paul, and two Oregon Democrats, Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. McConnell, taking the tactical lead, has been pressing either to simply insert the hemp language into the underlying farm bill or to specifically add it through a voice vote (rather than a recorded vote), according to multiple people involved in the negotiations. The Senate will return to debate on the farm bill Thursday morning.
The purpose of a voice vote would be twofold: First, it would give senators a low-profile way to support an issue still perceived as controversial and strongly opposed by police and prosecutors. “Law enforcement is very opposed,” said one top Democratic aide, explaining the reluctance to hold a floor vote.
Second, because there has not been a hemp vote in modern memory, supporters are uncertain that they have the 60 votes needed to meet the threshold for farm bill amendments.
A voice vote would also require unanimous consent, which means that a single senator could object and force a roll call. On Tuesday, Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) told HuffPost that he was a longtime hemp opponent. “I just have concerns about legalizing hemp production, and so I’ve never been a supporter of it,” he said, citing “law enforcement concern.” Johanns is retiring after the 2014 elections.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), according to three Senate aides involved with negotiations, told McConnell he would be willing to allow hemp to come up for a vote as a farm bill amendment. McConnell declined, saying that he wanted it either made part of the base bill or added as a voice vote.
The Republican side of the effort doesn’t appear to be working in unison. On Tuesday, according to two Democratic aides involved with the talks, the Senate Republican Policy Committee insisted that hemp be included as one of the amendments to receive a vote or Republicans would not agree to a final list. But McConnell had already been offered and declined such a vote.
Moving to a voice vote traditionally requires sign-off from the bill’s floor managers, as well as from the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate committee with jurisdiction. Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) has expressed support, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who as chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee is shepherding the farm bill, has said she’s open to a vote.
But Stabenow’s Republican counterpart told HuffPost Tuesday that he wasn’t aware of having signed off on any hemp amendment. “I haven’t had it brought to my attention,” Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said.
“We’ll be disappointed if there’s not a voice vote,” said Holly Harris, chief of staff to Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a Republican who ran on legalizing hemp and managed to push it through the state Legislature. He has been on Capitol Hill lobbying for it..
Wyden, who has introduced a hemp bill in successive Congresses, said Tuesday that he was planning to talk with Stabenow regarding a possible vote.
Hemp is not an issue that many senators have thought much about. HuffPost canvassed a wide swath from both parties and found most of them without enough information to form an opinion. Even those from farm states who have been supportive in the past were reluctant to take a stand on it — with the exception of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who said she remains a longtime backer.
“We passed it in our state for our farmers, and what we ran into is the federal restriction and specifically the DEA, their concern,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.). “So industrial hemp I think it’s reasonable to grow, but we’ve got to work it out with law enforcement.” After asking if McConnell was backing the amendment, Hoeven added that he plans to examine it with an open mind.
“I’ve been supportive of it, but I’d have to look at it,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
Even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a tea party ally of Rand Paul’s, told HuffPost that he hadn’t made up his mind on Paul’s amendment. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), another advocate of states’ rights, said simply “no” when asked if he would back the McConnell-Paul effort. Asked why not, he added, “I haven’t looked at the issue.”
Wyden said that he is continuing to lobby his colleagues, frequently pointing out to them that if the finished product can be purchased at Costco, there’s no reason farmers in the U.S. shouldn’t be able to grow it. He’s also working to convince them that nobody can get high by smoking hemp.
“The first challenge we have — and suffice to say, this has been the case for some time — is to make sure that people see the THC level, which of course is the active ingredient, is very different with hemp than it is with marijuana,” Wyden said.
A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll found that, by a 56 percent to 24 percent margin, most Americans think it should be legal to grow hemp in the U.S.
I found this article on twitter (if you like being “in the know”, there is no better source, believe me. Just follow as many news organizations as you can find). And like many others on issues relating to marijuana (albeit indirectly), I find myself irritated at the non thought.
First, lets get to know the plant in question, Hemp. Though it is a cousin of marijuana, its THC content is almost to certainly nil. It really has no drug properties to worry about (sorry kids. Smoking that hemp rope wont get you anything LOL).
But though its useless medicinally, it has many uses in other areas. And most importantly, many of its uses go hand in hand with the sustainable living movement.
One possible use for hemp, would be as a replacement for paper/cardboard/fiberboard which normally originates from trees. Year after year, we use millions and millions of pounds of virgin paper for such things as newspapers/magazines/paper towel/toilet paper. The last 2 are the worst. Were literally throwing or flushing away hundreds of years of forest growth, not to mention a big part of the earths carbon sink, for single use items. Use or read it once then trash it.
Which is stupid. Hemp could be put to use for the same things. The only difference being, it does not take hundreds of years to replace what has been harvested. Sure, there will be some tinkering before hemp can match its paper counterpart (for example, the creating the “softness” that many desire out of there toilet paper), but when people start to focus on such problems, such hurdles get overcome.
Another usage that is already in practice to a degree, is hemp rope. This seems a great replacement to its petroleum based cousin, nylon and other plastic based ropes. The benefits may not be immediately apparent here, but one of the big ones is biodegradability. For example, fishnets.
Plastics have many different uses because of both there durability and dependability. It is a tough, light weight and long lasting material. Which is why it is so widely used in todays modern world, for everything from furniture to food packaging. And of course, fish nets.
Unfortunately, the down side of having a super-durable material being used in many single use applications, is of course, its longevity (think of all the plastic trash you accumulate in the space of a week). Unfortunately, like many errors of the human race, the error of being plastic reliant didn’t become apart until the damage was done.
Landfills fill up quickly with the stuff. The oceans are a mess with the stuff. But the wave of plastics keeps on coming, as the consumer machine now knows nothing else.
But back to my original line of thought . . .
I only mentioned 2 of the potential uses of hemp, but there are many, MANY more. And there will be many more found. All we need is to get the scientific community thinking about it.
The US is the domineering factor of many things, and this could be a chance to emerge a leader of a new and exciting industry. Both the revenue stream and the tax dollars that could be collected from BOTH marijuana and hemp, should be a great reason in itself, for a bankrupted nation.
But so long as the american people let a few with a narrow, uncompromising, “tunnel vision” view of a subject (not to mention, those with a lot of $$ to throw around) control the show, the benefits may never become a reality.