Hemp Industry Loses House Champion

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Peterson has lost his reelection bid.

November 5, 2020

There was one notable loss amid a successful election night for the hemp industry as House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) lost his reelection bid. While Peterson's defeat after 30 years in the House deprives the industry of one of its champions, advocates remain confident in hemp's prospects, given its bipartisan support.

"It's a major disappointment because Chairman Peterson has been such a strong ally for the hemp industry—leading the battles in the House to protect hemp farmers with regard to the USDA, FDA, DEA, and hemp legalization in general," Jonathan Miller, general counsel for industry association Hemp Roundtable, says.

Geoff Whaling, National Hemp Association's board chairman, agrees. "We owe him an awful lot, he was a huge champion, and I hope the work he's done for us will not be forgotten, and someone else will pick up that charge and lead it for him."

RELATED: Several Hemp Industry Supporters Elected to Congress

Caren Wilcox, executive director, and chief operating officer of the U.S. Hemp Growers Association, notes that Peterson's loss was not unexpected given he served in an overwhelmingly Republican district. But, beyond being a strong advocate for hemp, she says the congressman was important "because he really did understand rural America and agriculture and agricultural processing."

Peterson's loss to Michelle Fischbach, former lieutenant governor of Minnesota, by a margin of 53.4% to 39.9%, is part of a broader shake-up of agriculture committee leadership in both the House and the Senate. The House ag committee Ranking Member Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) is retiring; however, Eric Steenstra, president of grassroots nonprofit Vote Hemp, does not consider Conaway's retirement as much of a loss, noting that the congressman was not a strong hemp advocate.

Patrick Atagi, the board chairman of the National Industrial Hemp Council, also points to this year's retirement of Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, as another change to congressional agriculture leadership. Atagi, however, agrees that Peterson's retirement is a larger loss for the hemp industry.

Looking Ahead

With the House and Senate Agriculture Committee chair positions open, hemp industry leaders are now looking to who may fill those spots.

Steenstra believes that, based on seniority, the House committee's new chair will likely be Rep. David Scott (R-GA). It remains to be seen how much of an advocate the congressman would be as he "doesn't really have any history with hemp and isn't from a state that has a significant hemp industry," Steenstra says. 

Atagi adds that Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) and Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) are other contenders for the position. "[Fudge is] high on the internal list for candidates who would be in an appointed position in a Biden administration," Atagi says. "But I think we’re still good regardless of who goes in there."

Both Miller and Atagi note that hemp should continue to be in a strong position due to bipartisan support no matter who takes over the agriculture committees.

Theresa Bennett and Michelle Simakis contributed to this story.