Summary: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is revoking hemp licenses for farmers who also grow marijuana, creating a significant challenge for those involved in both industries. This decision reflects the complex legal landscape where hemp is federally legal while marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance.
USDA Forces Farmers to Choose Between Hemp or Marijuana
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently taken action that significantly impacts farmers involved in both hemp and marijuana cultivation. Following the legalization of hemp in the 2018 farm bill, many American farmers saw hemp as a potentially lucrative crop. However, the USDA is now revoking hemp licenses for farmers who have also chosen to grow marijuana, where it’s legal at the state level. This decision has caused financial strain for farmers like Sam Bellavance in Vermont, who estimates a loss of at least $250,000 in revenue due to the license revocation.
The inconsistency between federal and state interpretations of the 2018 farm bill reflects the larger challenges hemp and marijuana farmers face in an emerging market where two nearly identical agricultural products have very different legal statuses. Under federal law, marijuana continues to be classified as a schedule 1 drug with no medical applications, the same as heroin. This federal classification conflicts with state laws where marijuana is legally possessed and supported by a majority of Americans.
The hemp industry has expressed concerns that the lack of legal and regulatory clarity from the federal government has scared off retailers from selling hemp-derived products and tanked the price of the crop. This has led to a dramatic reduction in hemp cultivation levels. In 2019, farmers planted 275,000 acres of hemp, but that number plummeted to just 21,000 acres last year.
The USDA’s moves to rescind hemp licenses have further roiled the market, with apparent discrepancies in how the licensing is enforced. While the USDA declined to answer specific questions about its decision, the issue remains complicated by marijuana’s federally illegal status. Farmers affected by the USDA’s decision express frustration and confusion, as they are otherwise following the law. The situation is particularly challenging for small farmers and those in rural areas. Some legal experts believe the USDA’s actions could lead to litigation, potentially violating the Administrative Procedures Act.
This situation highlights the ongoing challenges and inconsistencies faced by hemp and marijuana farmers in the U.S. due to the complex interplay of federal and state laws.
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