Let Ex Cons Legally Work in Agriculture

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Let Ex Cons Legally Work in Agriculture

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On December 17, 2021, Governor Pritzker signed HB3416, which includes an Amendment (Public Act 102-0690) that places eligibility restrictions on the ability of controlled substance felons to participate in the growth and production of industrial hemp.

Industrial Hemp, the non-psychoactive cousin of Marijuana (defined as a cannabis plant with THC levels below 0.3% that DOESN'T get you high), is an emerging industry that includes nutrition (hemp protein), plant-based medicines (CBD), textiles, fiber, building materials and bio-fuels that is projected to grow to over $26.6 billion by 2025.  It is recommended by many, including Chicago NORML, as an alternative means for social equity entrepreneurs and small businesses to enter the cannabis industry without having to have millions of dollars of capital and access to exclusive licenses.

Public Act 102-0690 amends the Illinois Industrial Hemp Act to require the Illinois Department of Agriculture to adjust its statutes to become consistent with the Federal 2018 Farm Bill.  

This is a problem for social equity since the USDA issued a final ruling and legal opinion on May 28, 2019 detailing additional “ineligibility restrictions for those growers with felony convictions relating to controlled substances."

The 2018 Farm Bill added restrictions on the ability of convicted felons to participate in the growth and production of hemp.  This felony language was introduced into the 2018 Farm Bill by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnel, which states that “any person convicted of a felony relating to a controlled substance under State or Federal law” is ineligible to participate in any legally authorized hemp production programs for a 10-year period following the date of the conviction.  

Specifically, the 2018 Farm Bill states the following

(i) In general.--Except as provided in clause (ii), any person convicted of a felony relating to a controlled substance under State or Federal law before, on, or after the date of enactment of this subtitle shall be ineligible, during the 10-year period following the date of the conviction--

``(I) to participate in the program established under this section or section 297C; and

``(II) to produce hemp under any regulations or guidelines issued under section 297D(a).

`(ii) Exception.--Clause (i) shall not apply to any person growing hemp lawfully with a license, registration, or authorization under a pilot program authorized by section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (7 U.S.C. 5940) before the date of enactment of this subtitle.

The USDA legal opinion clarifies an exception to this prohibition for “a person who was lawfully producing hemp under the 2014 Farm Bill”

To address this and other issues with the 2018 Farm Bill, on October 1, 2021, US Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) announced the release of reform legislation, titled the Hemp Advancement Act, that will eliminate a ban on participation in the hemp market by people with felony drug convictions.  

“This provision disproportionately excludes communities of color from participating in this emerging [hemp] market – and frankly, it just has no place in our public policy” Rep. Pingree stated, adding that she was “shocked when I first realized that there was a prohibition on someone with a felony drug charge” from entering the industry.

The Farm Bill comes up for renewal every five years, and the 2018 Farm Bill is set to renew in 2023.  Many expect that this particular issue will be resolved in the 2023 Farm Bill, and federal law gives states that strongly object to the USDA’s final ruling on the 2018 Farm Bill the option to continue operating industrial hemp under the 2014 Farm Bill, thus giving state regulators additional time to help reduce the negative unintended consequences that the USDA final ruling might have on the emerging hemp industry.

On June 29, 2021, the House Appropriations Committee released the draft of the fiscal year 2022 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies funding bill that extends the 2014 Farm Bill deadline from January 1, 2022 to January 1, 2023.

Public Act 102-0690 requires the Illinois Department of Agriculture to update its Hemp Program to conform with 2018 Farm Bill rules.  However, Public Act 102-0690 DOES NOT specify HOW or WHEN the Department needs to implement these rules. 

While recognizing the benefits for the majority of larger players in Illinois to operate off of 2018 Farm Bill Rules, we cannot ignore the plight of groups who have suffered disproportionately from the effects of the War on Drugs and cannot support legislation that prevents these groups from entering this market.

To solve this issue, we propose a dual-use system for the implementation of Hemp Policy within the State of Illinois, where Hemp licensees, at the beginning of each year, have the option to “opt-in” either under 2014 Farm Bill guidelines (which may limit them to do commerce strictly within the State of Illinois) or 2018 Farm Bill guidelines (for non social-equity parties who would like to normalize on the federal standard).

We are asking the Department of Agriculture, the Governor’s Office and Representative Sonya Harper to introduce a bill that supports such a policy recommendation so that those who have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs have the opportunity to legally maintain employment and/or ownership in their local businesses so that they can continue to operate in the emerging industrial hemp industry.

References

Illinois Public Act 102-0690: https://ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/fulltext.asp?Name=102-0690

USDA Legal Opinion on 2018 Farm Bill: https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/HempExecSumandLegalOpinion.pdf

Hemp Advancement Act of 2021: https://www.marijuanamoment.net/congresswoman-previews-hemp-bill-to-ease-regulatory-restrictions-and-end-felony-ban-for-licensees/

FY22 Agriculture Appropriations Bill: https://docs.house.gov/meetings/AP/AP01/20210625/112825/BILLS-117-SC-AP-FY2022-Agriculture-AppropsAgriculturedraftbill.pdf

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