Last updated: January 18, 2021
Under a new bill that was overwhelmingly passed by the Senate, it will be legal to grow hemp, a non-psychoactive variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, in the United States. This is a significant development to take note of as an employer, hiring manager or HR professional. Despite being non-psychoactive, hemp products have been found to produce positive results on a marijuana drug test.
Passed on Thursday by a vote of 86-11, the Farm Bill is an extensive agriculture and food policy legislation. The provisions of this piece of legislation decriminalize the cultivation, processing and sale of industrial hemp.
Speeches on the Senate Floor
In a speech delivered on the floor of the Senate on Thursday, McConnell argued that every year American consumers buy and use millions of retail products that contain hemp. According to him, the current federal regulations fail to make a clear distinction between this industrial crop and the illegal variety, making it difficult for American farmers to meet the existing demand on their own. He said that this situation forced consumers to buy hemp products made from hemp produced in foreign countries.
In separate speeches on the Senate floor on Tuesday and Wednesday, McConnell made a case for the legal provisions of the bill.
In April, the GOP leader had introduced the Hemp Farming Act, a standalone legislation that sought to legalize hemp. Its provisions would later be included in the wide-ranging Farm Bill when it was brought to the chamber earlier this month.
Opposition to the bill
Two weeks ago, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry consented to the bill in a vote of 20-1. As the committee was preparing the text of the bill, one of Congress’s fiercest opponents of marijuana legalization, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), declared that he would introduce major amendments to the provisions of the bill on the floor. He was specifically keen on doing away with the decriminalization of cannabis plant derivatives like cannabidiol (CBD). However, Grassley never introduced any changes, missing the chance to initiate an important debate, thereby allowing the bill to sail through in its original form.
Support for the bill
The approval of this bill by the senate means that employers have to be more careful in ensuring that prospective employees pass the marijuana drug test.
While Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) opined that the nationwide legalization of hemp brought to an end years of bad policy making and presented numerous economic opportunities for farmers in Oregon and other parts of the country, the bill may have adverse effects on the workplace. The senator further stated that by creating red, white and blue jobs with reasonable pay, the bipartisan legislation would stimulate economic growth in rural communities. He expressed his pride in having worked with colleagues to get the Hemp Farming Act passed, stating that this was a long-overdue move and a major milestone for American-grown hemp. However, he did not capture the negative impact of the hemp plant.
Shortly after this month began, the Senate passed a nonbinding resolution that recognizes the “growing economic potential” of hemp.
Yet another Congressman who failed to perceive the issue in its entirety is Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO). Delivering his speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday, he said that for the first time in a period of 80 years, this bill had legalized hemp. This is despite the fact that throughout the mid-1800s, hemp was widely grown in the United States. Americans used hemp in paper, wine and fabric, he added, at a time when the federal government treated hemp like any other farm commodity. It was not until the early 20th century, when a 1937 law classified hemp as a narcotic drug, effectively limiting its growth significantly.
When hemp became a Schedule One controlled substance, he considers the situation to have become even worse. He went on to say that Colorado, as well as other parts of the country, views hemp to be an opportunity to diversify farms and manufacture high-margin products that will benefit the American people.
The standalone hemp bill by McConnell currently has 29 cosponsors, with 17 democrats, nine Republicans and two independents signing it. In a Congressional Research report released last week, it is indicated that over 25,000 products constitute the global market for hemp.
Bill awaiting Presidential assent
Although house Republican leaders had blocked a vote that would include hemp legalization in the chamber’s version of the Farm Bill, this became part of the edition passed by the Senate. It will also be a topic of discussion when the bicameral conference committee meets to merge bills from the two chambers into one piece of legislation to be sent to President Trump for assent. As the most powerful senator, McConnell is likely to keep pushing to ensure his hemp proposal sails through.
The White House, in a statement of administration policy that was released this week, expressed its concerns with the Farm Bill without touching on the provisions that legalize hemp.
In the 2014 version of the Farm Bill, McConnell introduced provisions that permitted controlled state-authorized research programs on hemp.
As much as Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner lauded the passage of the new provisions by the Senate on Thursday, there are those who remain opposed to this piece of legislation.
Impact of hemp in the workplace
Legalizing the hemp plant will present a number of challenges. First, hemp products produce positive results during marijuana drug tests, including 5 panel, 10 panel, and 12 panel drug tests. This will make it more difficult to interpret and appropriately handle workplace marijuana use cases. Second, ingestion of large quantities of food containing hemp or its derivatives can result in psychoactivity and other negative effects on the health of the user. These two challenges can lower productivity and make the workplace riskier.