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A lifetime ban on drug felons in the hemp industry could result from a pending bill to remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act.
The 2018 Farm Bill has been roundly praised by hemp activists because the Senate version would give hemp-derived CBD new legal protections and would make hemp eligible for crop insurance and federal water rights.
But the bill has another provision that isn’t as pleasing to hemp entrepreneurs – a lifetime ban on anyone “convicted of a felony related to a controlled substance under state or federal law.”
Out of business
The felon ban has some of hemp’s most seasoned entrepreneurs warning that the Farm Bill could undercut the existing hemp industry even as it expands market access to others.
“It’s completely discriminatory,” said Veronica Carpio, who has been growing hemp in Colorado since 2013, a year before the Farm Bill that authorized states like Colorado to permit hemp production.
Carpio, who also owns a Denver pizza restaurant that puts CBD in its pies and paninis, said she would no longer be able to grow hemp because of a prior marijuana-related conviction.
“This is going to deny a ton of opportunity to people getting in the hemp business,” she told Hemp Industry Daily.
The felony language was added to an original hemp amendment from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentuckian who has been a strong advocate for expanding production of the plant.
McConnell’s office did not return a call from Hemp Industry Daily seeking clarification on the proposal.
‘It’s a compromise’
According to Geoff Whaling, head of the National Hemp Association, the felon amendment was intended to address concerns from hemp skeptics that the 2018 Farm Bill would give illegal marijuana producers access to a nationwide commodity market before regulators could figure out how to check a new crop for THC levels.
Whaling, who was involved in negotiations over the bill’s felon language, told Hemp Industry Daily the ban was necessary to reduce opposition to the overall hemp expansion.
Without it, he said, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and others could have fought the amendment’s inclusion.
“People have to remember that the legislative process is a negotiating process,” Whaling said. “There is give and take on all sides.”
Whaling conceded that the felon ban could remove opportunities for many interested hemp producers, including folks who are already in the business, like Carpio.
“It’s not perfect; it’s a compromise,” Whaling said of the bill.
Still, the felony amendment has some pushing for the final 2018 Farm Bill to undergo more work before it heads to President Donald Trump’s desk.
“This is a terrible amendment and one the industry needs to unite against and have removed from the bill,” said Morris Beegle, president of the Colorado Hemp Co.
The Senate has passed the hemp expansion (including the felon ban) through its version of the Farm Bill. But the House version of the same bill makes no mention of the plant.
The two chambers will have to hammer out a compromise version before sending it to the president for final approval.
Congress has until the end of September to negotiate on the Farm Bill. If the House and Senate can’t agree by then, the existing hemp pilot-project language could expire.
While hemp entrepreneurs interviewed by Hemp Business Daily said they support expansion even with the felon ban, they believe the industry should push for the ban language to be removed from the final version.
“It makes no sense,” said Rick Trojan, a Colorado hemp grower who also has ownership stakes in hemp production projects in Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon and Vermont.
“This would be disallowing felons from something they could’ve been doing a month ago,” Trojan said. “You could’ve been growing cannabis illegally a month ago, got caught, and now you can’t grow cannabis anymore now that it’s legal.”
Kristen Nichols can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org