Adding hemp provision to farm bill was key to passage, says Farm Bureau official

A top official with the American Farm Bureau Federation said Monday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown Jon Stewart slams McConnell over 9/11 victim fund MORE's (R-Ky.) provision to legalize hemp played an instrumental role in passing the farm bill last month.

"That was key to getting the farm bill done," Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations, told Hill.TV's Krystal Ball during an interview. “At the end of the day that was a priority for leader McConnell.”

He said inclusion of the provision helped set the stage for expanding the hemp industry amid rising demand for cannabidiol (CBD) oil, which has become increasingly popular for treating common ailments like pain without the mind-altering effects of marijuana and certain pharmaceutical drugs.

“CBD oil is a big thing," Walmsley said. "There’s a lot of products we utilize for hemp but we can’t grow it here. We can’t manufacture it and utilize American-grown products, so the farm bill changes that.”

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE signed the 2018 farm bill into law last month after it passed Congress with strong bipartisan support.

The bill will provide billions of dollars in aid to U.S. farmers hurt by the trade war with China. The legislation also includes a provision that effectively removes hemp from its long-held status as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

McConnell has long advocated for legalizing hemp. He once called it the “bright spot in agriculture’s future.”

In the 2014 farm bill, McConnell helped pave the way for hemp cultivation pilot programs and commercial sales in his home state of Kentucky. More than 3,000 acres of hemp are now being grown across the state, and McConnell said the fiber brought in more than $16 million in product sales last year.

Walmsley said he isn’t sure whether the hemp market will boom over the next several years as predicted, but he remains hopeful. According to cannabis market research firm New Frontier Data, federal legalization could triple the overall hemp market to $2.5 billion by 2022.

“We always don’t want to overhype things. We don’t know what truly the market will look like, but farmers are going to start having the opportunity to start playing the hemp under certain conditions within their state and we’ll see if the market takes off,” Walmsley said.

However, following the legalization of hemp, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement indicating that it could crackdown on products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds like hemp.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stressed that the agency reserves the right to regulate products containing cannabis and said it would take action against businesses making claims about the therapeutic potential of CBD products that haven't been approved.

 —Tess Bonn