U.S. Representative Jared Polis

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McConnell, Wyden, Paul, Polis gain insight to advance industrial hemp research

USDA attempts to clarify industrial hemp’s eligibility for federal research grants

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Washington, September 20, 2016 | comments

After U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) raised concerns about funding for industrial hemp pilot projects last year, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) clarified which industrial hemp research programs are eligible for existing federal research funding.

USDA issued the guidance following a bicameral letter from the legislators. The guidance clarifies that industrial hemp would be eligible for National Institute of Food Agriculture (NIFA) funding, though research must take place in one of twenty-eight states with certified pilot industrial hemp programs. Eligible applicants are institutes of higher education and state departments of agriculture.

However, guidance issued in August by the USDA, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raised further questions about other industrial hemp policies, which are inconsistent and conflict with federal law and the Agricultural Act of 2014 (also known as the Farm Bill), specifically regarding transportation, the definition of industrial hemp, and the sale of hemp.

“USDA determining that industrial hemp research projects are eligible to compete for federal funding through existing grant programs is a good development for Kentucky farmers and helps ensure that industrial hemp pilot programs can continue with federal assistance,” said Senator McConnell. “It also demonstrates that the federal government agrees that this is a crop worth researching.  I look forward to continuing to work with hemp researchers in my home state and my colleagues in Congress to ensure that progress on industrial hemp research continues.”

“Ensuring funding is available to our states and universities will help Oregon put more hemp plants in the ground and propel industrial hemp research forward,” Wyden said. “I will continue working with my colleagues to get answers to the questions that remain so pilot projects like Oregon’s get the resources they need to ultimately seize on this burgeoning industry that provides a trifecta of benefits for farmers, the environment and the American economy.”

“Historically, Kentucky was a leader in hemp production, and it is already staking out its position at the head of the pack once again,” said Senator Paul. “I’m pleased to see the USDA respond to Kentucky farmers’ concerns by officially leveling the playing field for industrial hemp pilot programs so they can compete for existing federal funding.”

“I greatly appreciate the Department of Agriculture’s response and guidance on industrial hemp,” said Polis. “Access to federal funds will allow researchers to develop hemp as an everyday product. While we are making progress with federal grants, there is still a fair amount of contradiction on transportation and the sale of hemp. Putting those discrepancies aside, I remain confident that we’re heading in the right direction and look forward to working with the USDA in pursuing commonsense guidelines.”

Industrial hemp is used throughout the world in thousands of products, including paper, fabrics, lotions, canvas, rope, and construction material. Under the Farm Bill, institutions of higher education and state departments of agriculture are permitted to launch industrial hemp research pilot programs if certain conditions are met. Twenty-eight states have authorized industrial hemp pilot studies or production.

On November 20, 2015, 12 Senators and 37 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter requesting the USDA provide information on how the agency interprets their authority to award existing and competitive federal funds for the research of industrial hemp. The letter also requested information regarding how the USDA helps interested parties in the competitive grant process.     

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