WASHINGTON -- Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday signaled to advocates that he would support an amendment to the farm bill that will legalize industrial hemp production, according to Tom Murphy of Vote Hemp. Leahy's office, he said, told the group Rural Vermont that he'd be backing the effort, and a Leahy aide confirmed his support to HuffPost.
Leahy's backing is a major boost, because his committee oversees the Drug Enforcement Administration, which has jurisdiction over hemp, despite the fact that it's not a drug. His support is also a critical momentum swing because he had previously objected to inserting the provision into the farm bill based on jurisdictional concerns. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a hemp backer, requested May 13, the day before the farm bill came up for consideration, that Leahy grant a waiver of his jurisdiction, a request he declined. It was tough timing for McConnell: Leahy was in the midst of marking-up the historic immigration reform bill working its way through his panel.
In January, however, Leahy sent a strongly worded letter to the DEA asking why it had not been granting permits in recent years to hemp producers, and citing increased state support for domestically grown hemp. The DEA, in its reply, pointedly refused to refer to the plant as hemp, preferring cannabis or marijuana instead.
“Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), cannabis is a schedule I controlled substance regardless of its potency,” Eric J. Akers, the DEA’s deputy chief of congressional and public affairs, wrote in response, saying he believed the current regulations on hemp were adequate.
About eight people have applied to grow industrial hemp since 2000, he said, with half being approved and the rest denied because they had insufficient security.
The DEA is concerned that looser regulation of hemp would be “readily exploited by drug seekers,” including manufacturers of “hash oil,” Akers wrote.
The proposed amendment to the farm bill was introduced Monday by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and would exclude industrial hemp from classification as “marihuana,” removing it from the DEA’s purview.
It is cosponsored by McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
"For me, what's important is that people see, particularly in our state, there's someone buying it at Costco in Oregon," Wyden told HuffPost. "I adopted what I think is a modest position, which is if you can buy it at a store in Oregon, our farmers ought to be able to make some money growing it."
If the hemp measure can make it through the Senate, it stands a reasonable chance in the House, where Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has expressed openness to it.