The Farm Bill (House Bill 1947) died in the House Thursday morning as Democrats rebelled against deep cuts to food stamps. The vote to kill it came after the House had approved separate amendments that would have allowed for limited hemp production, but also would have allowed states to require drug tests for food stamp applicants.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) saw his hemp amendment pass the House, only to die along with the farm bill. (wikimedia.org)
In an historic first, the House passed an amendment offered by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Thomas Massie (R-KY) that would allow hemp to be grown for research purposes. The amendment passed 225-200, despite a last-minute lobbying blitz against it from the DEA, complete with a DEA talking points memo obtained by the Huffington Post
Still, despite the DEA's concerns that allowing limited hemp production for research would make law enforcement's job more difficult, a majority of lawmakers weren't buying, and amendment sponsors and hemp advocates pronounced themselves well-pleased.
"Industrial hemp is an important agricultural commodity, not a drug," said Rep. Polis. "My bipartisan, common-sense amendment would allow colleges and universities to grow and cultivate industrial hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes in states where industrial hemp growth and cultivation is already legal. Many states, including Colorado, have demonstrated that they are fully capable of regulating industrial hemp. The federal government should clarify that states should have the ability to regulate academic and agriculture research of industrial hemp without fear of federal interference. Hemp is not marijuana, and at the very least, we should allow our universities -- the greatest in the world -- to research the potential benefits and downsides of this important agricultural commodity."
"Industrial hemp is used for hundreds of products including paper, clothing, rope, and can be converted into renewable bio-fuels more efficiently than corn or switch grass," said Rep. Massie. "It's our goal that the research this amendment enables would further broadcast the economic benefits of the sustainable and job-creating crop."
"Because of outdated federal drug laws, our farmers can't grow industrial hemp and take advantage of a more than $300 million dollar market. We rely solely on imports to sustain consumer demand. It makes no sense," said Blumenauer. "Our fear of industrial hemp is misplaced -- it is not a drug. By allowing colleges and universities to cultivate hemp for research, Congress sends a signal that we are ready to examine hemp in a different and more appropriate context."
Nineteen states have passed pro-industrial hemp legislation. The following nine states have removed barriers to its production: Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.
"Vote Hemp applauds this new bipartisan amendment and we are mobilizing all the support we can. This brilliant initiative would allow colleges and universities the opportunity to grow and cultivate hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp. "It would only apply to states where industrial hemp growth and cultivation is already legal in order for those states to showcase just how much industrial hemp could benefit the environment and economy in those regions," continues Steenstra.
"Federal law has denied American farmers the opportunity to cultivate industrial hemp and reap the economic rewards from this versatile crop for far too long," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. "Congress should lift the prohibition on the domestic cultivation of industrial hemp as soon as possible. Allowing academic research is an important first step towards returning industrial hemp cultivation to American farms."
Drug reformers' and hemp advocates' elation over passage of the hemp amendment was short-lived however, as the Farm Bill went down to defeat for reasons not having anything to do with hemp. But the upside to the bill's defeat was that it also killed a successful Republican-backed amendment that would have allowed states to drug test people applying for food stamps, now known officially as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).
"If adopted, this amendment would join a list of good-government reforms contained in the farm bill to save taxpayer money and ensure integrity and accountability within our nutrition system," said its sponsor, Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), who added that it would ensure that food stamps go only to needy families and children.
But House Democrats were infuriated by the amendment. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), said there was no evidence people on food stamps were any more likely to use drugs than anyone else and that the measure was meant only to embarrass and humiliate people on food stamps.
"It costs a lot of public money just to humiliate people," she said. "It'll cost $75 for one of these drug tests, and for what purpose? Just to criminalize and humiliate poor people."
"This is about demeaning poor people," added Rep. James McGovern (D-MA). "And we've been doing this time and time again on this House floor."
The food stamp drug testing amendment was just part of an overall House Republican assault on the food stamp program that would have cut it by more than $20 billion. It was that attack on food stamps that led Democrats to walk away from the bill. [Ed: Perhaps not just over the cuts -- a National Journal article reports the drug testing amendment cost it votes too.]