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Hemp, Hemp, Hooray!

New farm bill gives hemp the green light

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Regular readers will recall our April 11 column–or maybe not (short-term memory loss and all). Even I had totally forgotten its content. Why? Because the column was about Mitch McConnell, and I refuse to let him occupy valuable brain real estate. I need that space to remember the names of jazz sidemen from the 1950s, obscure mobsters of the pre-war era and, of course, every single thing that has ever happened in the history of professional wrestling.

Much like wrestling, politics is a business in which enemies pretend to be friends, friends pretend to be enemies, and everything you see on TV is a transparent hustle designed to take your money. There are few better examples of this than McConnell (R-KY), the perpetually embattled Senate Majority Leader. He spent his entire career supporting our nation’s draconian drug laws before scheming to eliminate restrictions on industrial hemp–not because it was the right thing to do, but because his state was traditionally a major producer of the stuff. His plans took a big step forward last week, when his lame-duck congressional colleagues passed the 2019 Farm Bill, an $867 billion bucket of slop served as a sop to companies like Conagra, Archer Daniels Midland and the infamous Monsanto (all of which are banking bigly on corporate welfare disguised as relief for the small farmers whose lives have been ruined by these same industrial giants, resulting in a rust-belt suicide epidemic and endemic instability; these days, commodities prices fluctuate more wildly than the president’s heart rate when he Googles himself).

The bill sailed through both houses of Congress by margins rarely seen in these hyper-polarized times: 386-47 in the House, 87-13 in the Senate. Typically, such bipartisan consensus is seen only when it’s time to murder children in foreign countries because their leaders stopped following orders. In this case, however, it was the judicious application of pork that brought all the factions in line. The president is expected to sign it into law–illegibly, no doubt. For the most part, the provision to legalize hemp costs nothing, but it drew a lot of media hype because subsidies are boring and difficult to explain.

Currently, the domestic hemp industry is worth about $800 million, much of which is drawn from Chinese, Canadian and European imports. Some estimates project a future value of more than $20 billion within just five years. Right now, the stuff is used primarily to generate CBD and the odd textile, but the new law will lead to an almost immediate explosion of products across the full spectrum of consumer goods. Acreage allocated for growing hemp increased from 26,000 to almost 80,000 in this past year alone, so expect a quick jump to a quarter-million acres or more. Most of the output will be used for clothes.

Besides the hemp stuff, another farm-bill bonus is an end of expanded work requirements for food stamp recipients. Predictably, the White House has signaled its intent to continue its assault on the poor regardless of legislation. After all, they can’t afford to spend money at Trump properties, and that’s how power accrues in D.C. these days. (Ask the Saudis.) There’s also money for farms run by veterans and minorities, organic farmers and local farmers’ markets, all of which appeal to both liberals and small “c” conservatives. It’s a rare occasion for Washington pols to actually come together to do the right thing. But with major-league gridlock on the horizon starting in January, it’s unlikely to happen again.

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