Hemp can help our agriculture if government gets out of way to let freedom do its thing

Nothing is more important to me than individual freedom.  Perhaps it is my West Texas heritage that inspires me to value personal responsibility and independence.  My family taught me to work hard and take control of my own life because it is nobody’s life to live but mine.

Sure, everyone gains from interacting and sharing with others.  Complete isolation is dangerous for survival.

But we benefit most when free to interact and think autonomously.

These principles are not only at the core of our nation’s founding, but intrinsic to the fundamentals of agriculture.  Personal property and labor are extensions of the self.  It is my right to manage and defend my own property and the fruits of my labor.

This is why it frustrates me to see almost every aspect of life controlled by centralized government, especially in the agricultural industry.  We traded in our freedom and created a culture of dependency.  I would go as far as to say that each of us are property of the state, forced to entrust our destiny in the hands of the collective.

How did we lose our independence?  Did we ever truly have it in the first place?  Contrary to the idea of independence is the over-regulation of the hemp industry, a political phenomenon which has captured my attention for some time.

Towering up to 15 feet from the ground is an agricultural commodity, grown by various cultures for thousands of years, and best known for its exceptionally sustainable qualities and controversial nature.

In 2015 and 2016, reports indicate U.S. sales in hemp products generously exceeded half a billion dollars. Seeds and fibers from this plant can be used to create more  than 25,000 practical items like food, nutritional supplements, hygiene products, paper, clothing, building materials, fuel and much more. The seeds and fibers must be imported for manufacturing any of these items.

In Texas alone, it was reported in a 2015 testimony to the Agricultural & Livestock Committee that imports on hemp products reached $621 million for Fiscal Year 14.

It thrives in crop rotations, requires little if any pesticides, and naturally defends itself from invasive weeds. Hemp is a high-yield, low-input crop, which seems like an agricultural producer’s dream.

Conservatives often rail against imports and some have even supported President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum from China to promote domestic production. So why is the U.S. importing most of its raw hemp materials from China, instead of growing hemp on U.S. soil?  The answer is simple, yet quite puzzling.

The cultivation of hemp is still a federal crime, primarily due to the cannabis family ties it shares with its wacky cousin, marijuana.

If you remember nothing else from this article, remember that hemp is not pot or marijuana.  This common misnomer is at the heart of hemp’s legal instability in the U.S. Though similar in appearance and certain healing properties, hemp does not contain enough of the psychoactive component THC (tetra-hydro-cannabinol) to produce a high or feeling of euphoria commonly experienced from the effects of marijuana.

In fact, the hemp plant is predominantly composed of CBD (cannabidiol) which neutralizes the psychoactive effects of THC in marijuana. Despite the facts, confusion surrounding these plants has led to unnecessary and unjust legal turmoil for hemp farmers.  Even in states which allow hemp production, growers are still in legal jeopardy as long as cannabis is on the list of federally controlled substances.

Over the past few years, various conservative leaders have turned over a new leaf for the legalization of hemp.  More recently, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 which would remove hemp from the controlled substance list with intent to allow producers to grow hemp without being federally prosecuted.  Though McConnell’s reasoning behind the bill is mostly motivated by local production benefits for his home state, the spirit of economic freedom is the underlying theme here.

U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chair Mike Conaway (R-TX) and U.S. House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-NC) have both said they have no problem including hemp legalization in the Farm Bill.  Although Rep. Conaway is still concerned about the consequences of voter perception against hemp due to its association with marijuana.

U.S. Congressman James Comer (R-KY) has been a strong proponent of hemp legalization and is optimistic about the future of the industry since the recent Hemp Farming Act of 2018 has gained so much traction in the U.S. Senate.

While this bill has been fast-tracked through the Senate and would certainly expand the hemp market, it is crucial to understand it would still inhibit substantive competition and place control of production under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Conservatives pride themselves on being pro-business and promote the idea markets can be better regulated among free individuals competing to provide the best quality to meet the demand for goods and services.  So why do many self-proclaimed conservatives promote government regulation when they have vowed to oppose it?

It is not a new idea that economic growth and prosperity depend on the peoples’ ability to freely trade with one another, but free markets are still a sensitive subject in agricultural regions dependent on farm subsidies.  It is politically risky to campaign against these particular subsidies.

The economic factors of agricultural trade do not seem to be a priority to most government leaders.

Their political positions were designed to keep government in business, regardless of their original intentions.  The recent push to decriminalize hemp has awakened opportunities for aspiring hemp producers across the country.

Ten states lead the nation in the industry of hemp and Texas is not one of them.  I may be biased, but Texas should be leading the nation in agricultural innovation.  Just as in financial markets, diversification is also applicable to agricultural markets.  Production of hemp does not have to replace other cash crops such as cotton.  It can be used to create more opportunities for the agricultural industry.

There are ongoing efforts in Texas as well as other states to bolster this innovation.

Charles Perry, our own state senator who chairs the Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs Committee, told Lubbock Lights he will carry a hemp bill in the next legislative session as he did in the last session. He added the National Farm Bureau has  called hemp an authorized crop.

Loosening up laws against hemp, similar to the effect of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, would be a positive step, of course.

But as most free market advocates like me agree, regulations sorely suppress true market valuation for any good or service.  The risks taken by individuals in a free market create a system of accountability not found within government regulation.  When government influences markets, it is not beholden to anyone but itself. It doesn’t have to worry about breaking the rules when it calls all the shots for everyone.  Setting aside all benefits and potential for the economic growth hemp could bring to U.S. markets, the fact that we must beg our policy makers for freedom to conduct our own business as we see fit should deeply concern us all.  The reality we live in now is not in line with the good ol’ West Texas principles of independence and self-governance I was inspired to uphold.