The 2018 Farm Bill and Hemp as an Afterthought

Hemp’s efficacy across a range of applications was arguably the largest driving force that lead to total Cannabis prohibition back in the 1930’s. It presented the single greatest threat to the emerging petrochemical and existing timber industry as it was, and still is, a more sustainable materials source. It was the racially driven correlation drawn between a rise in an emigrating Mexican population and the practice of smoking Cannabis, distinguished at the time as marijuana, that served as the fear-driven fuel.

Through the 1930’s we saw a slew of printed materials, and one film, targeted at smearing this newly vilified “marihuana” as one of the most dangerous substances known to man. Coined the Reefer Madness campaign, after the now satirical film title, this campaign would lay the foundational sentiment for what would later become the modern war on drugs. One year later in 1937 the Marihuana Tax Act was implemented, effectively making the possession or sale of Cannabis illegal by means of an excise tax. Since then, after Moses Baca and Samuel R. Caldwell, both Colorado residents, became the first two individuals in history (and both in the same year—1937) to be arrested for its possession and sale— more than 20 million arrests have been made in the United States for Cannabis.

Now it’s one of the fastest growing, albeit quasi-legal, markets in the country. Except, of the now 30 states with some form of Cannabis law reform in place, whether strictly medical or both medical and recreational programs, only a few offer opportunities to even participate for those with past Cannabis related criminal offenses.

Colorado, Oregon, and Maryland have enacted legislation that would effectively rectify past convictions of simple possession charges. California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Vermont are looking to enact similar legislation— specifically reconciling charges of simple possession. However, a felony charge would still prevent someone from ever being able to participate in the now legal state industries.

Now, a short-sighted mentality seems to be turning its attention towards hemp. Shortly after it was introduced, it was confirmed that the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 would be included as part of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018. The original bill, now part of the larger Act also known as the Farm Bill, would legalize the production of hemp on a national level while allowing hemp farmers the same government assistance allowed farmers of other agricultural commodities. Although now the Senate’s version of the bill includes language that would prevent people from participating in the new program if they have a past Cannabis related conviction at all.

It seemed necessity for the Senate to include this specific language in order to even introduce this as part of the Farm Bill. But if those with past Cannabis convictions are barred from participating in farming hemp; what are we as a country saying?

That even though the tides of a war that has been waged largely against this country’s black and Hispanic populations are now changing; that those who were disproportionately targeted and incriminated aren’t allowed at the table? That those who have lost their freedom, maybe their families, maybe part of themselves for the sake of progress, if not simply for the exploration of a viable outlet with few other options, shouldn’t even be allowed the chance to participate?

Not only are individual states punishing those who, by collectively disobeying unjust laws, contributed to the onset of such sweeping reform in this new market. But now, we as a country may ban those people from continuing the progress in this, the industry that was made illegitimate at the expense and disproportionate mistreatment of those same people.

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