Let’s face it. It seems that our government is just not working well right now. The government shut down, at the time of this writing, is already the longest in history. However the Farm Bill of 2018 is a stand out of bipartisan work given this divided nation.
Let’s pick an adjective to describe the relationship between congress and the president. Cooperative or agreeable would probably be the last two on the list. It seems without some sort of change that is only going to get worse over the next two years.
Hello, Farm Bill 2018!
However, the Farm Bill of 2018 is a bright spot, thankfully in these divided times. This was the first Farm Bill to be introduced and signed into law by congress in the same year.
After 8 months of back and forth, the 807-page compromise bill, easily passed the Senate on December 11th with a 87-13 vote. A day later it gained approval in the House with a 369-47 vote. That is pretty good. Government working together to get something positive done for the American farmer.
Then, on December 20th, 2018, the Farm Bill was signed into law by President Trump. Right before the government shut down and congress going into recess for the holiday season.
The $867 billion farm bill budget provides over $600 billion to federal nutrition programs. It also provides a safety net to the long suffering farm industry which took an unexpected hit in 2018. That year, China imposed retaliatory tariffs, to tariffs which we introduced on them. Right or wrong these tariffs are estimated to impact U.S. agriculture by over 4 billion dollars over the next year.
The Farm Bill helps to provide additional stability for the agricultural community. It also, and pertinent to those of us reading and writing here, legalized the growth and production of hemp. At last removing it from the it from the federally banned crops.
The Farm Bill and Hemp’s Past
Hemp has been an important crop here in the U.S. and around the world for thousands of years. Thomas Jefferson once stated, “Hemp is the first necessity to the wealth and protections of the country.” Hemp was so important in early U.S. history that farmers were required to grow it and were even allowed to pay taxes with it. Who would have ever thought that was a thing?
Although hemp is versatile, following the invention of the cotton gin, its cultivation decreased around the U.S. Simply put, harvesting hemp manually was extremely labor intensive. The mechanical cotton gin sped up the processing of cotton so much that hemp could no longer compete.
In the early 1900s, hemp very nearly made a comeback. In 1917, a machine that reduced hemp’s harvesting time was patented in the U.S. by American George W. Schlichten. This machine separated the fiber from the internal woody core (called ‘Hurds’) and increased fiber yield significantly. In fact, the cost of processing hemp was reduced by a factor of 100.
This should have signaled the comeback of hemp.
Big Business and the Demonization of Hemp
Instead, shortly after that, a propaganda campaign against hemp was created by companies with vested interests. These were companies in the new petroleum based synthetic textile industry, chemical development, and the large and powerful newspaper / lumber industries. Invested in lumber and cotton, they saw a hemp resurgence as a threat to their businesses.
Harry Anslinger, the commissioner the the Alcohol Prohibition department of the federal government, was out of a job following the end of prohibition. He had familial ties to one of the above vested interests, Andrew Mellon, the owner of Mellon bank. Mellon was also the U.S. Secretary of Treasury at that time. It was Mellon who created the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and made Harry Anslinger its first commissioner.
Then it was payback time.
The Birth of Marijuana Madness and Hemp
Harry Anslinger heard rumors about Mexican immigrants smoking the majority of the hemp plant. They called it “marijuana”. Anslinger used this opportunity to increase his and the Bureau of Narcotics standing and return the favor to Mellon and his associates. Anslinger used the slang word marijuana in place of hemp and began spreading rumors about “Negroes and Mexicans” becoming violent while smoking marijuana. In the racist society of the time, the stories stuck and made the public afraid. William Hearst, who invested in timber and mills to produce paper for his newspapers, got on board. His newspapers also forwarded the line that hemp / marijuana was “dangerous”.
The net result of this negative campaign against hemp and the adoption and demonization of the term “marijuana” was virtual disappearance of hemp farming in America. In 1937 the Marijuana Tax Act was signed into law. This law effectively outlawed the possession and transfer of marijuana throughout the United States. This, by extension, also made hemp illegal. Some say that hemp was lumped in with marijuana due the the confusion between the two plants. Truthfully it is also likely it was because of the vested interests who benefited from hemp becoming illegal.
Now that the Farm Bill defines hemp as resolutely separate from marijuana the future looks bright for hemp. It will no longer be considered a controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency. This means that the legality of growing, processing and crossing state lines will be unhindered at a federal level moving forward. However, the Farm Bill does not preempt state law. It will be up to the states to regulate hemp production and processing.
What we can be certain of, is that more farmers will consider growing hemp. Good news for family farms, an industry which has shrunk by two-thirds since the great depression according to USDA reports.
The passage of the Farm Bill is good news in our current trade stand-off with China. China currently produces 50% of the world’s supply of cannabis according to a report in Forbes–largely hemp. It is estimated that the legalization of hemp in the US, it will grow to be a 22 billion dollar industry.
And why not? Hemp has a ton of uses, from cloth to industrial materials to CBD.
The passage of the Farm Bill opens the door to advertising, investment and research into the possibilities for hemp that were not previously available.
It is indeed an exciting time.