Today, a bipartisan coalition of House legislators introduced the “Free to Grow Act” to end the unfair drug felony prohibition for hemp farmers. The bill was introduced by senior House Agriculture Committee member Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, alongside Representatives David Trone (D-Md.), David Joyce (R-Ohio), and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). The Free to Grow Act aims would expand economic opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals.
“While hemp production was federally legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill, the industry’s growth is being stunted by red tape, discriminatory policy, and regulatory uncertainty,” said Pingree. “The upcoming Farm Bill gives Congress a once-in-five-years opportunity to correct the unfair policy that bans people with drug convictions from growing hemp. I am proud to join Reps. Trone, Joyce, and Mace in that effort by introducing the Free to Grow Act, addressing this injustice and supporting a thriving hemp economy.”
Despite the fact that Congress legalized hemp farming under the Farm Bill in 2018, the law prohibits people with a felony drug conviction within the past 10 years from cultivating hemp. This is especially troublesome considering that the annual value of U.S. hemp production has grown to over $800 million. By preventing formerly incarcerated individuals from participating in a growing industry, we are further exacerbating their potential inability to start a business and thrive financially.
Vote Hemp worked along with the Farm Bureau and the Drug Policy Alliance to remove this prohibition in the 2018 Farm Bill. It was originally proposed by Sen. Grassley (R-IA) as a lifetime ban but thanks to work by the original coalition, the provision was limited to those convicted within the past 10 years. The Free to Grow Act corrects this irrational and punitive policy and allows those who paid their debt to participate as hemp farmers. “Vote Hemp strongly supports the Free to Grow Act and thanks the sponsors for their support” said Eric Steenstra, Vote Hemp’s Executive Director.