Senators press administration to update hemp policies following legalization
January 17, 2019
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., pressed the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to take action to strengthen opportunities for hemp growers across the country. Due to the ongoing government shutdown, implementation of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (farm bill) — which legalizes hemp cultivation nationwide — is stalled, increasing uncertainty for producers.
Historically, hemp growers have been denied access to federally controlled water due to conflicting BOR, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Department of Justice policies.
"This frustrating circumstance hindered research, created economic hardships for the affected producers, and led to uncertainty across the West," the senators wrote.
In a letter to BOR Commissioner Brenda Burman, Tester and Bennet urged BOR to update its policies in accordance with the 2018 farm bill to ensure hemp growers can access water and irrigate their crops.
"We request that the BOR act quickly to update its policies to ensure hemp producers can access their water," the senators wrote. "We share an interest in assisting families in rural America and are pleased that this farm bill gives folks more freedom to choose their crops."
Tester and Bennet also highlighted the economic potential of hemp in their Western states, making the case for these policies to be updated as quickly as possible.
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"Hemp is a versatile commodity that can be used in a wide range of products including paper, fabric and biodegradable plastic," the senators wrote. "Its cultivation will allow farmers to diversify crops in rural states like Montana and Colorado."
Bennet, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, worked to include a pilot program for hemp growers in the 2014 farm bill, which paved the way to secure legalization of the crop in the 2018 farm bill. He also led the Hemp Water Rights Act, and called on the Department of Justice not to interfere with hemp cultivation or act against financial institutions that handle related funds.
Tester, the only working farmer in the Senate, has worked for years to protect the hemp industry, which is poised to become a major player in Montana's agricultural economy. He fought to remove hemp from the federal drug schedule, and introduced a bill to protect water rights for hemp growers.