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Our Recommendations to the Biden-Harris Administration: "Hemp For Renewal: Reconnecting and Revitalizing Rural America"

Hemp for Renewal: Reconnecting and Revitalizing Rural America

Rural communities across America have felt estranged from our economy and body politic for a long time, and the persistence of this estrangement continues to poison our civic and electoral discourse.    The pandemic-driven disruption to the US economy exacerbates this problem further, as farmers nationwide face the loss of their traditional markets, existentially threatening smaller, independent and minority-owned farms in particular.  Meanwhile, upheavals in global supply chains threaten American manufacturing, as our accelerating climate crisis demands a deep and lasting change in how we manage our farms and how we produce food, fiber and fuel. 

As part of our nation’s economic recovery, and in support of our imperatives on climate and equity as well, the new Administration has the opportunity to reconnect and revitalize rural America by galvanizing the value chains that make our bio-based economy work for all Americans.  By diversifying our agriculture and manufacturing, supporting healthy and resilient landscapes, and reducing our carbon footprint and our dependence on imports, such measures can achieve lasting support across a wide range of interests and affiliations, helping Americans to find common cause across our deep geographic, racial and economic divides. 

Hemp is a keystone crop for economic recovery, equity and climate-smart agriculture.  Hemp’s transformative promise beckons its consideration as a keystone of our bio-based future.  Cultivated for millennia to make textiles and paper, today hemp is a resurgent crop that can be grown productively by farms large and small in all 50 states, not only for textiles and paper, but also for nutrient-rich foods, wildly popular consumer wellness products, renewable fuels, and an expansive range of climate-smart building materials and advanced composites that offer sustainable and climate-friendly alternatives to the use of fossil fuels.  Hemp also represents a potential lifeline to smaller farms that have suffered most from the vagaries of economic inequities and climate change, while its cultivation promises important gains for climate-smart agriculture and the health of America’s croplands as well: it lends itself to regenerative farming methods, it supports biodiversity and accumulation of soil nutrients and carbon, and it is well-suited for crop rotation and bioremediation.

Erroneous regulations are deterring investment and distorting the market.  Despite hemp’s great potential, regulatory missteps and uncertainties are increasing the cost of production and impeding capital investments, creating severe bottlenecks in distribution, processing and R&D that are distorting the market.  They are also imperiling the livelihoods of thousands of American hemp farmers and hindering many thousands more from entering into hemp production.  By correcting these errors, and by stimulating investments in hemp infrastructure and R&D, large swaths of American farming and manufacturing will drive our economy to be more equitable, climate-smart and resilient.

The wood energy initiative led by USDA during the Obama-Biden Administration is a model.  The initiative coordinated support programs for research, production and infrastructure across several USDA agencies, bridged them with additional technical resources in the Department of Energy, and engaged for large-scale procurement opportunities with the Department of Defense and various state agencies.  It gained considerable traction, both in policy circles and in implementation on the ground, and offers a ready model for expanding the use of hemp and other commodities in our bio-based economy.  With the great need for R&D and broad potential applications of hemp-derived materials, the model could be built out further to include research by land-grant institutions and HBCUs and additional Federal procurement opportunities such as DOT. 

The incoming Administration can take immediate action within the Executive Branch as part of broader agendas on economic recovery, equity and climate.  Hemp enjoys broad multi-partisan support as a potential keystone crop.  With regulations and legislation continuing to evolve, and given the political imperatives to support our rural economy in weathering the pandemic, alignment in the policy landscape is within reach to leverage hemp’s promise for the systemic recovery, equity and climate resilience we sorely need.  The incoming Administration can make significant progress on numerous fronts through relatively uncontroversial Executive-branch action:

  1. Delay enforcement of erroneous provisions in USDA’s Interim Final Rule and correct them in the Final Rule (AMS);
  2. Increase and normalize access for hemp to the full range of USDA funding, insurance and guarantee programs for farms, primary processors and bioenergy production (FSA/RMA/RD);
  3. Integrate hemp in conservation incentives and other programs supporting bioremediation and climate-smart/regenerative agriculture (NRCS);
  4. Support efforts to develop a check-off program that represents the education and research interests of all types of hemp production (AMS);
  5. Designate hemp as a specialty crop for access to marketing orders and financial and technical assistance (AMS/NIFA);
  6. Normalize hemp in export promotion and international capacity-building initiatives (FAS);
  7. Expand cooperative extension and research programs in hemp agronomy, genetics, and materials research through land-grant institutions and HBCUs (NIFA/ARS);
  8. Expand USDA and Government-wide procurement for hemp-based textiles, foods, fuels, construction materials, and advanced composites (AMS/RD plus DOD, HUD, DOT etc.)
  9. Establish a FACA Committee to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on implementing the above;
  10. Reorganize the Interagency Working Group on Hemp under USDA leadership (rather than under ONDCP, as previously) to coordinate government-wide policy on hemp, including:
    • FDA regulation of hemp-derived CBD as a food and dietary supplement, including designation of naturally derived hemp extracts as botanical supplements (HHS/FDA)
    • Normalized access to financial services for hemp businesses (Treasury);
    • Coordination with international standard-setting organizations (ASTM, ISO, AOCA, etc.) on consumer product and testing standards (HHS/FDA)
    • Delayed enforcement of DEA’s Interim Final Rule interpreting application of the Controlled Substances Act to licensed processing of hemp-derived intermediate concentrates (DOJ);