Editor's Note: This story was updated at 11:15 a.m. to reflect comments from Patrick G. Martin, an attorney with Cozen O'Connor law firm.
Election Day 2020 has come and gone. And while cannabis advocates claimed some major victories as five states across the U.S. approved legalization measures, hemp industry leaders predict business as usual for cannabis’s low-THC cousin.
Still, hemp experienced some wins that may help solidify the burgeoning industry moving forward, according to industry organization leaders.
Congressional Race Wins
“Hemp’s champions in Congress scored major victories at the polls yesterday,” says U.S. Hemp Roundtable general counsel Jonathan Miller.
Miller points to the more than 20-point victory for Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who helped lead hemp to legalization by championing both the 2014 and 2018 farm bills. “Certainly, Sen. McConnell has been very interested in hemp because Kentucky was once the leading state to grow hemp in the United States,” says Caren Wilcox, executive director of the U.S. Hemp Growers Association. “He understands the diverse products that will come from hemp as we progress.”
It is still unknown whether McConnell will remain the majority leader of the Senate as numerous states continue tallying their votes. However, hemp industry leaders are confident that U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who could become the Senate majority leader should Democrats take over the Senate, will also be an advocate for hemp.
“I know personally that Schumer wants to drive hemp to help New York farmers,” says Geoff Whaling, chairman of the National Hemp Association and president of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council. “Overall, because of the fact that hemp was [legalized by] a bipartisan bill that was pushed forward by McConnell, I think we will continue to have that support no matter who ends up leading the Senate.”
Other Congressional wins for hemp industry advocates, according to U.S. Hemp Roundtable, include:
- U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who has advocated for hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Merkley, who helped author the provision in the 2018 Farm Bill to help legalize hemp, also recently sent a letter to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) objecting to its newly proposed rule on hemp. Merkley won reelection by a nearly 20-point margin as well.
- Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), lead sponsors of H.R. 8179, which would legalize the production and sale of hemp-derived CBD in dietary supplements, both won their reelection bids.
- Reps. David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who both wrote a strong letter to the DEA objecting to its recent interim final rule, won their reelections s well.
And while Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who has been a strong advocate for hemp, lost his reelection bid, hemp industry organizations are showing strong support for his opponent, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. In his time as governor from 2011 to 2019, Hickenlooper oversaw one of the first successful state hemp programs in the country and “should be an industry ally,” Miller says.
“I know there are hemp growers who are worried about the defeat of Senator Cory Gardner, but former Governor Hickenlooper should be a great supporter of hemp in his new capacity as [a] senator from Colorado,” Wilcox says.
To Be Determined
While the industry celebrates its Congressional wins, an air of uncertainty looms as the country awaits who will become president.
Whaling says President Donald Trump and his administration have been supportive of the hemp industry, and Whaling anticipates that will continue should he be reelected.
However, if Biden were to prevail, some observers believe this would help accelerate the hemp industry's growth.
A Biden administration "will probably have a bigger impact than any changes in Congress," by being more supportive of the industry, Patrick G. Martin, an attorney who directs the Midwest government relations and public advocacy efforts for Cozen O'Connor law firm, says.
"What we've seen since the farm bill passed is just a lot of delay," Martin adds. "I think there's hope among many in the industry that a Biden administration is going to be a little more favorable in getting this young and important industry up off the ground."
Whaling says he is hopeful the industry will gain Biden’s support if he's elected.
Whaling points out that if Biden moves into the White House, he will likely appoint hundreds of new people to various government roles. This could present a hiccup in advancing hemp-related initiatives—particularly the federal advisory committee on hemp that Whaling is pushing to introduce to the White House and Congress.
“There are people that we have relationships with,” Whaling says, adding that a Biden election would “result in us having to go back and do our job all over again to educate and ask people for their support.
“But the foundation is still within all the departments,” Whaling adds. “We have work to be done still, but I think it will be mostly business as usual.”
Hemp Grower Editor Stephen Langel contributed to this report.