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5 Farm Bill Nuggets: Marijuana, White Potatoes and More

The House GOP on Monday officially filed a 109-page bill to fund the country’s nutrition programs — Part II of its bifurcated farm bill strategy.

Though most of the chatter relates to the legislation’s $40 billion in cuts to nutrition programs over a decade, it also contains some interesting provisions with some interesting stories behind them.

In order of appearance, five choice nuggets contained in the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013:

1. A few weeks after the Justice Department announced it would not be seeking to challenge marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington states — and mere months after the District of Columbia appeared to be getting its medical marijuana dispensaries up and running — the nutrition bill for floor consideration this week would instruct the Secretary of Agriculture to “promulgate rules to ensure that medical marijuana is not treated as a medical expense.”

2. In this new bill, lawmakers don’t want to risk inadvertently catering to a now-infamous “lobster-eating California surfer” who also happens to be a beneficiary of food aid. They also don’t want to give taxpayer-funded nutrition assistance to lottery and gambling winners, either. The measure would explicitly prohibit these characters from receiving food stamps, though this provision has been seen in earlier farm bill incarnations. 

3. Members of Congress don’t want lobster-eating surfers, lottery winners or gamblers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and they also don’t want drug abusers or convicted felons. The GOP nutrition bill would require applicants to be tested for “unlawful use of controlled substances” and set “eligibility disqualifications for certain convicted felons.”

4. For some spud enthusiasts, a victim of the war on healthy foods has been the white potato, the starchy, carb-heavy root vegetable that children love to eat. In the Senate, Susan Collins, R-Maine, has been a fierce defender. But House Republican lawmakers have now, too, rushed into the potato’s court: The legislation before the House this week requires the Agriculture secretary to “review the economic and public health benefits of white potatoes on low-income families who are determined to be at nutritional risk.”

5. And finally, as the very last provision in the nutrition bill, another mandate of the secretary of Agriculture: “as soon as practicable after the date of enactment … finalize and implement a plan to increase the purchase of Kosher and Halal food from food manufacturers” under The Emergency Food Assistance Program. The provision has a certain timeliness to it, as both the Muslim observance of Ramadan and the Jewish High Holy Days have recently wrapped up.

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