Victimizing the victims: U.S. industry stewards throw felons under the bus

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Everything seemed on track with the 2018 Farm Bill – expected to crack the U.S. market wide open – until somebody came up with another great idea to victimize the victims, that specialty of the Trump Administration and its enablers in Congress.

After a Senate-written Farm Bill carrying Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell’s all-important 2018 Hemp Farming Act passed with strong bi-partisan support, it then got hung up in the feeble, geriatric mind of Sen. Charles Grassley (Republican of Iowa) who, because he doesn’t understand the issues, insisted on attaching a draconian measure barring former drug felons from participating in hemp businesses.

Hands on the throat

In the back-door, back-stabbing, hands-on-the-throat process that requires both houses of Congress to agree on something, ugly things can happen. That McConnell, Our Great Hemp Leader of the Senate, caved to Grassley’s destructive amendment is therefore not surprising.

And anyway, the reality is that many states already ban felons from the hemp industry under rules put in place as pilot programs, state by state, sprouted up across the USA following passage of an earlier hemp bill included in the 2014 Farm Bill.

‘Get out’ of the business

So to some extent, the Grassley amendment would seem irrelevant for the moment. It nonetheless drew attention from a few noisy activists who pointed to the hypocrisy of a federal law that could force many cannabis entrepreneurs out of the industry. Forever, as some have interpreted the clause.

Morris Beegle of Colorado-based We Are For Better Alternatives (WAFBA), a prominent industry voice and organizer of NoCo Hemp Expo in Colorado, and Southern Hemp Expo in Tennessee, perhaps said it best in a Facebook post: “The amendment to the Farm Bill banning drug felons (including cannabis) from being able to participate in the hemp industry is pure bullshit,” Beegle wrote. “People who have drug felonies on their record are not banned from growing corn, wheat, soy, or participating in those industries. . . . This compromise isn’t so much unexpected as it is an embarrassment.

“For anybody in the hemp industry who actually supports it . . . ,” Beegle continued, “do everyone a favor and get out. You have no honor for this plant.”

NHA says: That’s OK

Victimizing the victims seems OK to Geoff Whaling, President of the National Hemp Association (NHA), who constantly reminds in NHA missives that he is deeply involved in negotiations over hemp – at the highest levels! The “felon amendment,” Whaling seems to be saying, is all down to the necessary give-and-take of getting a bill into law.

“People have to remember that the legislative process is a negotiating process” was Whaling’s patronizing comment in Hemp Business Daily recently. “There is give and take on all sides.”

A blithe assumption

And Whaling is not alone.

“This amendment was put in at the last stage here in the Senate after Grassley stood down on really altering the bill for the worse,” Jason Amatucci, an NHA Advisory Council member who is also Executive Director of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition, wrote in response to Beegle’s Facebook missive.

“I assume this was a concession for the Justice dept/aka Judiciary Chair Grassley, law enforcement and some others in Congress who are still hesitant to support hemp,” Amatucci continued.

“I don’t know anyone in the hemp industry that wanted this last minute amendment,” he wrote. “It’s not us vs. us, it’s the process of us getting a hemp legalization law passed in Congress . . . .”

ANYTHING to shove through the Hemp Farming Act, Whaling and Amatucci seem to be saying. Let the cannabis felons twist in the wind.

(The Hemp Industries Association, putatively the USA’s most prominent voice for hemp, remains silent on the flap brought on by the Grassley amendment, complicit in the hypocrisy).

Other problems with 2018 Bill

Meanwhile, as the debate over the Grassley amendment seems to have its foregone conclusion, those in the hemp business are paying scant attention to a more fundamental struggle that could hold up the 2018 Farm Bill in any case. Primarily, conservative lawmakers are pushing to eliminate some provisions of the Bill – with a particularly contentious debate over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which offers nutrition aid to millions of low-income families and supports economic development for struggling communities along with conservation, crop subsidies and loan programs – all of which are under attack.

If the SNAP hangup isn’t worked out and legislators can’t agree on final language for the overall 2018 measure by Sept. 30, existing rules governing state hemp pilot programs in the framework of the 2014 Farm Bill could expire anyway.

All of a sudden, things don’t look so hempy in the USA.

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