“I truly believe that 2021 will become the year of hemp.” - Geoff Whaling, chair, National Hemp Association
On Dec. 3, the House Democratic Caucus named Rep. David Scott (D-GA) the new House Agriculture Committee chairman, taking over for Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), who lost his bid for reelection in November. Scott, the first African American to hold the chairmanship, is seen by observers as an advocate for hemp, a champion for underserved communities and committed to bipartisanship. Scott is joined by new ranking member Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), who is taking over for retiring congressman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX).
Scott becoming chair "is great news for hemp growers," said Palmer Hamilton, a partner in the government relations group of Jones Walker and head of the firm's Washington, D.C., office. Hamilton added that Scott is a friend and colleague of Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA), the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee chair and "one of hemp's strongest supporters." The two will make a great duo in advocating for hemp, he said.
Geoff Whaling, the chair of the National Hemp Association, agreed, noting that both Scott and the new ranking member Thompson have supported hemp in committee. "I only see continued progress for this commodity crop and our industry. I truly believe that 2021 will become the year of hemp," he said.
Larry Farnsworth, the spokesman for the National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC), said that Scott's "approach to working with both sides of the aisle will help the hemp industry."
In a press release, Scott said he was honored to take on this role while acknowledging this decision's historic nature. He added that his experiences during segregation would help inform the way he approaches the chairmanship.
"I was born on my grandparents' farm in rural Aynor, South Carolina, during the days of segregation and the hardships, of those, on whose shoulders I now stand," he said in the release. "I owe this historic selection as the first African American Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee to a diverse coalition of members from across our nation."
Jonathan Miller, general counsel for industry association U.S. Hemp Roundtable (USHR), said he believes that Scott serving as the first African American chair is a sign of progress. "It is exciting to see history made as we are all trying to better look out for the interests of farmers of color and minority-owned businesses," Miller said.
For its part, USHR recently formed a Minority Empowerment Committee (MEC), led by Amber Littlejohn, Esq., a USHR board member, and serves as executive director of the Minority Cannabis Business Association. The MEC's mission is "to create an equitable and impactful hemp industry."
The incoming chairman is pledging to use his leadership role to advance various priorities, which observers say will benefit the hemp industry. "I will use this critical opportunity to represent the values of our entire caucus and advance our priorities for trade, disaster aid, climate change, sustainable agriculture, SNAP, crop insurance, small family farms, specialty crops and rural broadband."
For example, NIHC's Board Chair Patrick Atagi said he believes that focusing on climate change will benefit hemp. That focus is "very favorable for hemp just because of the remediation qualities" of the crop, such as its ability to take in carbon dioxide and the fact that it is a crop that uses relatively little water, Atagi said.
Scott also has the support of the outgoing chair and ranking member.
Scott "will make a great Chairman, and I'm proud to pass the reins to him," Peterson said, adding, "David knows very well the impact the Committee's work has on the lives of farmers, ranchers, rural residents, and consumers in communities across the country. I'm confident we're all in good and capable hands."
Conaway added that Scott "has proven himself to be a champion for rural America."