By Jim Holte
I recently had the honor of hearing President Donald Trump address my fellow members at the 99th Annual Convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation in Nashville, Tennessee. Not surprisingly, he addressed major agricultural issues like tax reform, regulatory reform, rural broadband access, Waters of the U.S. and trade policy. Every farmer in this country is impacted by these issues and I hold faith that the president understands the incredible challenges we face every day on our farms and ranches.
I also hold faith in the president’s entrusting Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to lead the administration’s Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity and execute its mission to “identify legislative, regulatory, and policy changes to promote in rural America agriculture, economic development, job growth, infrastructure improvements, technological innovation, energy security and quality of life.” Now that the task force’s report is out, one item escaped the list of recommendations, and so I urge the president and Congress to support an emerging rural economic opportunity for many farmers and ranchers across America.
I believe this country is ready to go forward with the legalization of industrial hemp and move beyond nearly five decades of industrial hemp’s unfortunate misalignment with its more infamous cannabis cousin. On Sept. 1, 26 other state Farm Bureau presidents joined me in writing a letter to Secretary Purdue urging that he and the task force recommend in its final report that industrial hemp be declassified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. While I am disappointed that it didn’t make the list of recommendations, I am pleased with the ongoing dialogue we have with the secretary’s office.
Joining Farm Bureau in support is the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Farmers Union, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and many other organizations across the country. To negate any talk that this is a left-leaning fringe issue, 14 current and former GOP governors have enacted hemp legislation under their watch – including Vice President Mike Pence.
In November, Wisconsin became the 34th state to pass some form of legislation to legalize hemp production with unanimous support in the legislature and with the backing of Governor Scott Walker. As Wisconsin gears up for its first hemp planting season since 1957, this emerging and promising rural economic opportunity is under serious threat.
On Feb. 15, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco heard a case, Hemp Industries Association v. Drug Enforcement Administration. The crux of the case is the DEA’s 2016 “Final Rule” that applied a controlled substances code number to cannabis extract products that contain one or more cannabinoids, including non-psychoactive cannabinoids that meet the federal industrial hemp definition of less than 0.3 percent THC, like Cannabidiol. The DEA’s position is so egregious that 28 members of Congress lent their names to a bipartisan amicus brief in support of HIA’s claim that the DEA has overstepped its bounds and that the Final Rule “was an abuse of DEA’s administrative rulemaking authority and otherwise not in accordance with law.”
Covering the entire political spectrum, these bold members of Congress – including Reps. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) – argue that “through the Final Rule, DEA is stifling economic development and commercial exploration of industrial hemp. It is undercutting the legislative text of Section 7606 of the Farm Bill by prohibiting marketing research of industrial hemp-derived extracts under an agricultural pilot program. This is the very opposite of what Congress passed into law and the purpose behind it.” America’s industrial hemp farmers, entrepreneurs and researchers agree.
I urge President Trump and Congress to join the Wisconsin Farm Bureau and many other supporters in calling for the passage of Rep. James Comer’s (R-Ky.) H.R. 3530, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act. This legislation will classify hemp as it should be, an agricultural commodity, and permanently remove it from the jurisdiction of the DEA.
Wisconsin farmers are hurting. It was recently reported that out of 94 federal court districts, the western district of Wisconsin experienced more farm bankruptcies than any other in 2017. This might help explain why 250 attendees showed up on a cold, blustery night in Eau Claire to attend a hemp seminar we recently hosted and more than 300 others have watched the video recording of it. I’m sure some were curious, but many others are desperate for options in this time of depressed commodity, milk and livestock prices.
President Trump and Congress can lessen the burden of regulation that is stifling innovation, research and entrepreneurship in the emerging hemp industry, and join Congressman Comer and others in supporting the Industrial Hemp Farming Act. Through the support of the president and Congress, we can finally make it happen.
Jim Holte is a beef and grain farmer from Elk Mound, Wisconsin, and president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.