Bill Filed in Congress to Eliminate Drug Conviction Ban for Employment in the Hemp Industry

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Bill Filed in Congress to Eliminate Drug Conviction Ban for Employment in the Hemp Industry
March 22, 2023

Congress has received a new bill to end a federal policy, one which some lawmakers believe is discriminatory. The policy would end prohibitions preventing people with prior felony drug convictions from owning or being in charge of legal hemp businesses.

Several representatives are sponsoring the “Free to Grow Act.” This bill would address the past conviction provision included in the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp at the federal level. According to the 2018 Farm Bill, individuals convicted of a felony drug offense within ten years cannot lawfully perform specific roles in a licensed hemp business. The Free to Grow Act would strike this language from the legislation, effectively eliminating the drug conviction ban.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) explained that the ban applied to key participants, such as chief executives and other individuals with direct financial interests in the business. As such, the prohibition did not include employees. This language followed the narrow interpretation advocates wanted. However, lawmakers are now trying to remove the prohibitory language entirely. 

In the past session, other filed legislation attempted to increase the THC threshold for legal hemp. It would also allow laboratories to test the crop regardless of whether the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) certified them. Finally, the legislation hoped to remove the felony conviction ban. 

Despite the legislation’s attempt, laboratories must still be DEA certified to test crops. However, the Department stated that the requirement would not receive enforcement until December 31, 2023. The USDA will publish a weekly newsletter to supply interested individuals with information on the hemp industry. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will also decide how best to regulate hemp sold as CBD. Furthermore, the FDA made a statement concerning how to market CBD. Accordingly, the agency claimed no interest in making rules to allow the marketing of CBD as food items or dietary supplements. As a result, the industry would remain without regulations despite the many requests for administrative action from advocates, stakeholders, and lawmakers.

The FDA also announced that the existing regulatory pathways used for other dietary supplements and food additives would not work for CBD. As such, the agency wants to work with Congress on the issue.

If this bill passes, it should open up more pathways to employment for many individuals. It would also help employers to increase their labor pool. It remains uncertain whether the bill will come to pass, but it is something employers within the hemp industry must keep their eyes on.

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