hammer and gavel on wooden table

Hemp Legalization Amendment Bans Drug Convicts

The 2018 Farm Bill has been touted as the bill that will save hemp and bring it to the mainstream market. However, a clause in the bill that seeks to legalize hemp prohibits anyone convicted for a drug felony from growing hemp.

The clause is likely to lock out hemp entrepreneurs already engaged in the business. An example is Veronica Carpio, president of Grow Hemp Colorado. Speaking recently at a hemp conference in New York, she expressed her fears for a bill she was happy to support as a hemp entrepreneur and enthusiast.

While the 2018 Farm Bill has been welcomed by people across the board, some provisions are now coming to light and giving entrepreneurs sleepless nights.

Carpio, who has a past felony conviction for possession of cannabis, is worried about her future in the business. She refers to the time and effort she has dedicated to building herself a very successful business and her involvement in the industry for a very long period. She is concerned that if the bill passes she may be barred from participating in the industry for good. This is despite her substantive contributions to the growth of the industry and the advocacy for the legalization of hemp and products made from it..

The amendment that was proposed by Senator Mitch McConnell would enable the 2018 Farm Bill, also known as the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 to revise the illegality of hemp. It would essentially remove the plant from the list of banned substances and bring to a close the debate, which has persisted for decades, around its relationship with marijuana. This would effectively remove it from the DEA’s watch list and open up the plant for large-scale cultivation.

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The bill has gained bipartisan support in Congress and is likely to pass if a few issues are ironed out between the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The contention among hemp advocates is the hemp legalization amendment, which unlike the original bill, prohibits anyone convicted of a drug-related felony from taking part in hemp production and potentially other aspects of the hemp industry.



A lot of hemp enthusiasts were elated when the bill came to light. It was a bold move by Senator McConnell, a respected member of the United States Congress, to spearhead the effort to legalize hemp. The kinds of restrictions placed on hemp have always confounded advocates because no other major crop faces this kind of regulation in the U.S.

Speculation has been rife that the amendment was introduced to ensure that the bill could sail through. This is an effort to reach out to conservative members of Congress and the Department of Justice who have expressed concerns at the legalization of hemp.

While the Senate bill includes the amendment, the House version of the bill does not include hemp legalization. This means that before the two bills are merged and taken to the president for his signature, the two chambers must come to a compromise. The Senate and the House will, therefore, form a “Conference Committee” to resolve the differences between the two versions. The committee, made up of members from both parties will then discuss the 2018 Farm Bill and produce a final version that addresses the concerns of the members.

According to Rick Trojan, vice president of the Hemp Industries Association, advocates are worried that if the bill passes the amendment in its current form it will create an unequal and unfair playing ground for the hemp-derived products industry. Trojan says that the exclusion of people based on past felonies is not what the movement has been fighting for and neither is it the stand of the entire industry.



Under the 2014 version of the Farm Bill which came into effect under President Obama, the hemp legalization amendment allows for institutions and universities to grow hemp for conducting research into hemp products like pure CBD. This bill has enabled farmers to grow the crop under regulations developed by respective states. This has elevated a progressive state like Colorado to the nation’s top hemp producer.

The hemp legalization amendment in the 2018 Farm Bill intends to put hemp farming under the purview of the Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture will then approve individual growing programs for any state or Native American tribe across that nation.

The clause in question would effectively lock out affected individuals from the licensed programs. It states that;

“Any person convicted of a felony relating to a controlled substance under State or Federal law shall be ineligible—

  1. to participate in the program established under this section; and
  2. to produce hemp under any regulations or guidelines issued under section 297D(a).”

Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp says that there is no certainty that other parts of the industry will not be affected by the clause which clearly stipulates that anyone with a felony drug conviction is exempted from hemp growing hemp. He adds that there is a disappointment in the industry about the language used in the bill.



Steenstra further points out that a mere drug-related felony conviction should not be a reason to ban someone from constructively contributing to the industry. Hemp campaigners argue that there are individuals with vast experience and skills in growing and production of hemp who should not be prohibited solely based on past convictions.

Industry advocates are asking questions that need answers. They are of the view that if the U.S. has already started on the path towards legalization of hemp, then there is no need of putting obstacles in the way as this will only serve to slow down the growth of the industry.

Some advocates like Carpio and Trojan have made suggestions that the amendment is racist. This is based on data that shows that although drug abuse is prevalent among all races drug convictions are lopsided against people of color.

In a press statement, Carpio denounced racism and discrimination in both hemp and marijuana sectors and called on the language in the amendment to be revised.

Carpio added that the felony ban as presented in the hemp legalization amendment is a stumbling block to efforts meant to develop the sector and prohibiting thousands of people who are already disadvantaged from earning a living off hemp is unfair.



Steenstra, on the other hand, suggested that the hemp legalization amendment is likely to pass in its current form and the only option is to continue lobbying and take advantage of any potential chance to revise the language.

Another hemp advocate, Joy Beckerman, president of the Hemp Industries Association, expressed optimism that things may change in future saying that any piece of legislation may not necessarily be flawless.

Trojan encouraged hemp advocates to ramp up the fight for equal opportunity for everyone in the hemp industry and advised supports to lobby their legislators to pass the bill.

The hemp community, in general, seems optimistic about the possibility that the amendment to the 2018 Farm Bill will result in hemp legalization.

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