March 5 & 6, 2019
Today was one of those days that makes me wonder why I take the time away from my family to be here in Jackson. Politicians are by far the most self centered group of folks I've ever been around. I've worked hard on a couple of bills this year, I've offered amendments, I built a group of truly bi-partisan legislators but one scared politician ended it all.
The first bill I've worked on was the industrial hemp amendment. At the beginning of this year I really didn't know much of anything about hemp. Like many I thought it was a form of marijuanas and growing hemp was simply a back door to drugs. Sometime in January I had a constituent who owns farm land call me and ask me if there was any chance Mississippi would legalize growing hemp. I told him I would do some research and learn about the issue. While researching the issue I found a bill from past years written by Rep. David Baria. I also learned that in the US Farm bill passed in December 2018 the federal government was going to remove hemp from the controlled substance list. This would allow state agriculture departments to develop programs that would allow farmers to grow hemp. I also learned that hemp has many many uses and the united states is the largest importer of hemp in the world. So we use it but we haven't allowed our farms to grow it. President Trump realized this we a bad economic decision and instructed the DEA and US department of justice to change the law.
So I copied Baria's bill and submitted it as my own. The reason for this is because Baria is the leader of the democrat party in the House so I knew it might easier to get a bill with my name as the author than his bill. I discussed this with David and we agreed to sign onto each others bill as co-author and we would help pass whichever bill made it thru the system.
My bill survived longer than David's so we worked on it, David made sure the Democrats would be onboard and I worked on Republicans. The biggest obstacle was the chairman of the House Ag committee. He did not want to pass any bill that was related to drugs. I talked to him several times, I had farmers email him and others call him hoping to educate him on hemp so he would understand that hemp is not marijuana and Mississippi farmers need the ability to grow this crop.
After that effort failed our groups switched tactics. There was another bill that could be amended to allow farmers to grow hemp. Every year the state updates our controlled substance law to match the federal government. so it makes sense to remove industrial hemp from our state law just as the federal government is going to do. I offered that amendment in the drug policy committee and it easily passed with a voice vote by the committee members. But things never work that easily in politics. The committee chairwoman did not understand the issue of hemp nor did she care to learn about it. so even tho the voice vote was easily in favor of my amendment she called for a show of hands and simply miscounted (on purpose) and ruled the amendment failed. At this point there isn't much to do but accept your defeat and try again on another day.
We made the decision to try an amendment on the House floor. Once a bill is voted out of a committee then it must be presented to the entire House for a vote. I tried to convince the chair of the committee to present the amendment but when she refused I presented the amendment myself. I had worked with several other representatives, most with Abe Hudson from the delta, and had a pretty good idea that the amendment would pass. The amendment passed overwhelmingly so the bill was off to the senate.
The next hurdle is the Lt. Gov. Once a bill is sent to the senate it is up to the Lt. Gov. to assign that bill to a committee. which committee he assigns becomes very important because the chairman of that committee becomes in complete control of your bill. If he assigns it to a chairman who will listen to your arguments for the bill that is good, but some just don't listen.
The bill with my hemp amendment was assigned to Senate committee Judiciary A which is chaired by Briggs Hopson. As soon as I knew who had my bill I tried to schedule a meeting who senator hopson but as you can imagine there are lots of people who want to talk to him. Another legislator who was working with me did catch sen. hopson and I sent him a text message asking him to consider leaving the hemp amendment unchanged. I later caught up with him and discussed the hemp bill and another bill I had authored that was assigned to his committee.
After several meetings with sen. hopson an attorney who had been working with us on the hemp amendment contacted several farmers from around the state and asked them to come to the capitol. We had about 10 farmers and other interested citizens show up. I know they were a little disappointed because the normal understanding of a meeting is not what happens often around the capitol. most folks think if you are going to have a meeting with a senator you will sit down in an office or conference room and talk but in politics that doesn't always happen. What happens is sometimes the only meeting you get is when you catch them in the hallway. But these hallway meetings can be very productive. These farmers spent most of their day standing around the capitol and talking to anyone who would listen. The talked to sen. hopson and several others hoping to educate them about hemp.
in the end, senator hopson stripped my amendment out of the controlled substance bill and replaced it with a study committee. this committee is charged with making a recommendation to the legislature about what the state should do about industrial hemp. the problem with this is two fold, one by the time the committee makes any recommendation our farmers are more than a year behind other states and two, study committees are generally a place where good ideas go to die. establishing a study committee is a politicians way to telling you they care about your issue but in reality they are doing everything they can to kill your idea.
Whats next? the fact is the fear and lack of knowledge by those in political power have been pretty successful in killing this idea and have cost our state and our farms millions of dollars. I don't honestly know if its simply lack of knowledge or there is money somewhere fighting this issue. But we have one more way to help.
Our plan now is to amend sen. hopson's amendment to state that if the study committee recommends the state remove industrial hemp from the controlled substance law that it will be done immediately without waiting for the legislature to do it in 2020. This would at the very least make it happen a little quicker.
That is where we stand now, somewhat defeated by ignorance, lack of care, and possible just pure ole politics of money. but defeated today does not mean defeated forever, we keep fighting and continue to move forward. (by the way, that last sentence is written mostly for myself, I have to keep telling myself that our goal is too important to ever allow the establishment folks to defeat me)
Oh, my second bill that I thought was dead, came back to life. Sen. Hopson called another meeting of his committee and passed my bill. I had no idea he was going to do that, I don't know if it was an oversight the first time of if something me or someone else said to him caused him to reconsider. But it is proof that nothing here is dead until we go home in April. Good idea do occasionally survive.