Newly Formed Hemp Trade Group Hopes to Shape Federal Policy

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A recently formed Washington D.C. trade association founded by a pair of Beltway veterans is hoping to be the voice of hemp industry stakeholders across the U.S.

Launched by Chris Thorne and Scott Graves on October 30, the Hemp Federation of America (HFA) is the brainchild of a small group of hemp farmers, processors and other farm services providers.

Speaking to THCnet, Thorne, who runs his own public affairs business and spent three years as the vice president of communications for the Beer Institute, said the non-profit group’s core mission is to help shape federal policy.

“We need a common sense regulatory framework that encourages industrial hemp growing and doesn’t restrict it,” he said. “How do we get to that point? Right now, we are collecting the necessary information, and creating arguments for a regulatory framework that serves farmers in Vermont just as well as it serves farmers in Oklahoma, California and Oregon.”

The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill decriminalized industrial hemp and paved the way for more widespread cultivation and commercialization of cannabis sativa plants containing less than 0.3 percent THC.

But according to Thorne, there’s still confusion about the differences between hemp and marijuana amongst lawmakers, something his group aims to change.

In addition to educating members of Congress, Thorne said priorities include easing existing regulations on hemp growers, securing banking protections for the industry and lobbying for interstate commerce.

Two weeks ago, the HFA conducted its first “fly-in.” A handful of the group’s 30 or so members traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress as well as representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to discuss their legislative and regulatory agendas.

According to The Hill, Derek Azevedo, an executive vice president at Bowles Farming Company in California, explained the group’s intentions to reporters earlier this month.

“Every facet of this industry is new and underdeveloped,” he said. “And one of the real keys to see in the Hemp Federation, particularly being farmer-lead, is to zero in and focus on the items that need to get fixed first.”

Hemp lobbying is not new to Capitol Hill, however. A number of groups, including the National Hemp Association and the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, among others, are already working to educate lawmakers and the public about the economic benefits of hemp farming.

Asked how the HFA would differ from other associations, Thorne said he viewed his group’s efforts as complementary.

“We are focused on legislation, regulation and advocacy,” he said.

The global hemp market is predicted to grow from $4.6 billion in 2019 to more than $26 billion in 2025. In addition to extracting cannabidiol (CBD) from hemp for use in beverages, balms and other products, the crop has a variety of uses and can be used in everything from animal feed, to construction materials and textiles.

“It has enormous value,” Thorne said.