Jim Fossel: Slow bureaucracy stifles new ideas

Jim Fossel

It’s hard to believe, but despite their best efforts otherwise, Congress and the White House actually did manage to accomplish something good for the country last year. It wasn’t just that they put off brinksmanship over the budget or the debt ceiling, either: they actually passed legislation that enacted a major policy change. They even managed to do it in a broadly bipartisan way, easily passing both the House and Senate before being signed into law by President Trump.

The bill was the 2018 Farm Bill, authorizing over $850 billion in continuing spending on agricultural issues. That it was a spending bill should come as no surprise: If there’s anything both parties can readily agree on, it’s spending more money.

The surprise was that the bill contained a major policy shift, removing hemp – the variety of cannabis with little to no psychoactive effects – from the list of controlled substances. This was a worthwhile change long overdue, since it never really made much sense to categorize hemp as an illegal drug rather than as an agricultural product. It would be essentially the same as making the cultivation of all mushrooms illegal just because some kinds of mushrooms can get you high, even though plenty of them just taste great on pizza.

That change led the owners of the Sheepscot General Farm & Store in Whitefield to come up with the idea of a pick-your-own hemp field, like farms all over Maine do with apples and blueberries. It’s the first such field in Maine, and it would seem to be exactly the sort of small business that Congress hoped to encourage by reclassifying hemp. Sadly, when Congress passed the farm bill, they basically just told the USDA to go write new regulations – which were only just released last week. That left the crop in legal purgatory, as Sheepscot General found out when their bank, Camden National, and insurance company, Acadia Insurance, recently moved to cancel their accounts. Because there weren’t regulations yet, the financial institutions weren’t willing to gamble on this new industry – even for a current customer.

Click here to read more of this Portland Press Herald article by Jim Fossel.