In December of 2018, the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law. This was an inflection point for US agriculture because this was not your typical Farm Bill. In this case, this new legislation was a game-changer. It meant removing cannabis and its derivatives with low concentrations of psychoactive compound (THC) from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Even though the changes made by the bill seem pretty straightforward, to this day, there are still plenty of doubts about it. What does this legislation imply for local farmers? And for consumers? Are there any restrictions to CBD growth? Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, then – shall we?
What is Hemp?
To move forward, first, we need to take a step back. It is essential to define what hemp is and what it is not. Legally, hemp is a cannabis plant that contains 0.3 percent or less THC. Probably everyone always told you to associate cannabis with marijuana. However, industrial hemp is not marijuana. Why may you be asking?
Although hemp and marijuana plants come from the same species, marijuana contains more than 0.3 percent THC. This THC is the ingredient that lends marijuana its psychoactive properties. That is to say, the big difference between the two is that marijuana can get you high, while hemp can’t.
With this common misconception cleared up, let’s get started with our hemp history lesson. Looking back at the path is essential to understand where we are standing now.
Americans have always used medicinal and recreational cannabis. Have you ever stopped to think who first thought that cannabis had to be illegal? It all began in the early 20th century. In 1937, Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act, which placed a tax on the sale of cannabis, hemp, or marijuana.
However, this law didn’t criminalize the possession or use of marijuana. A few years later, in 1970, the Controlled Substances Act formally made it illegal. This period of US history is known as “The War on Drugs.” President Richard M. Nixon, who signed the CSA into law, decided to target substance abuse.
During those years, he started his War on Drugs initiative. He took several measures, such as mandatory prison sentencing for drug crimes and more funding for drug-control agencies. It may seem weird if explained like this. Why did the federal government ban cannabis? Did they find some harmful side effects due to its consumption?
Well, no Nixon’s administration was utterly aware of cannabis didn’t pose any threats to your health. However, by criminalizing cannabis and associating antiwar movements and black liberation organizations to weed, they had the perfect excuse to arrest their leaders and harass activists.
From the War on Drugs to the Farm Bills
Over the years, pro-cannabis protesters made meaningful progress nationwide. Continuous demonstrations, being militant and constant lobbying bear some fruit. Slowly but surely, some states stood up to Washington and began legalizing cannabis for medical-related issues. But it still seemed like an uphill battle against Congress.
Nevertheless, in 2014, the Agricultural Act of 2014 was signed. With the passage of this bill, the hemp agricultural business received a much-needed boost. It allowed “‘institutions of higher education and state agriculture departments to grow hemp under a pilot program.”
The aim was to generate and protect hemp research. Moreover, this bill established a new definition of industrial hemp. From that moment forward, the allowed level of THC in the US was officially less than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.
In December 2018, President Donald Trump signed the most recent farm bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act. This time they went even further and removed hemp from the definition of marijuana in the CSA. Before, there was no legal differentiation between hemp and the psychoactive THC.
So, this change made commodity hemp production legal federally. There are no more pilot programs to study the market. Now, farmers can cultivate hemp broadly.
Now, hemp is legalized. But is it also CBD? The answer is more complicated than you might think. While it is true that the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp-derived products from its Schedule I status, this only applies under certain situations.
The Farm Bill determines that any cannabinoid will be legal “if and only if that hemp is produced in a manner consistent with the Farm Bill, associated federal regulations, association state regulations, and by a licensed grower.” If the farmer fails to meet these requirements, hemp remains illegal.
As you might have guessed by reading this 2018 farm bill sum-up, this bill came with plenty of regulations to ensure everyone’s safety. From low THC levels allowed to detailed punishments for law violations, the restrictions are pretty severe. However, the prospect of hemp being a revolutionary product is very exciting.
Hemp and FDA Regulation
The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for ensuring the US’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation. When it comes to hemp products, they must meet any applicable FDA requirements and standards.
The aim is to make sure that customers can have access to safe and accurately labeled hemp products. It is undeniable that all of us feel more relaxed if there is an agency looking after us. The hemp industry faced a problem: hemp seeds do not naturally contain CBD or THC. So, can CBD products, such as oils and powders, be legally used in the US food supply? Let’s see what the FDA has to say about it.
They decided to allow them as long as the food meets their requirements when it comes to hemp products. Are you wondering which are these requirements? Nothing crazy – the same ones that apply to any other food. However, things get a little bit more complicated when talking about the current regulation of hemp products that contain CBD.
The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act state that it is unlawful to interstate commerce food with CBD. The reason behind this fact is that you can not trade food with an added substance that is an active ingredient in an approved drug product.
Moreover, CBD does not count as a dietary supplement. They feared that allowing the addition of drugs to foods or dietary supplements might be dangerous for American consumers. Nevertheless, thanks to tireless protest, in June 2018, the FDA approved a drug, Epidiolex, to treat seizures. This was a huge deal because the active ingredient in this drug is CBD.
Since then, they have only approved this and three synthetic cannabis-related drug products, Marinol (dronabinol), Syndros (dronabinol), and Cesamet (nabilone). As for the rest, they didn’t allow any other CBD product for interstate commerce.
“At present, any CBD food or purported dietary supplement products in interstate commerce violates the FD&C Act.” FDA firmly believes CBD is not a risk-free substance. This lack of regulation leads to no FDA oversight of CBD manufacturing processes, which exposes consumers.
Seeing that the FDA is stalling, Congress has required the federal agency to establish regulations of CBD. This bill, the Hemp Access and Consumer Safety Act, aims to create a regulatory pathway for CBD to be used in food, beverages, and dietary supplements. It would also amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
Not only would consumers benefit from this bill, but it would also help straggling American farmers. Moreover, a stabilized marketplace would create new jobs in the hemp industry. The interest in CBD products continues to increase, and there is an urgency to solve this problem. Meanwhile, people keep legally consuming CBD products, and farmers keep producing them without FDA regulations.
Great Power Comes With Great Responsibility
Although hemp supporters believe the hemp market will take off, we can’t ignore the many challenges this industry is facing. Not to mention the great uncertainty regarding policy and regulatory areas. What are some of the issues?
- Shared state-federal regulatory power: Each state department of agriculture has to discuss a plan to license and regulate hemp with the state’s governor and chief law enforcement officer. However, some states might decide not to devise a program, which will result in federally-run systems in those states. This shared regulatory programming raises two main problems. First, these federally-run systems were designed by people unaware of the specific needs of the states involved. It is always better if each state can devise its program. They know best what they need. Secondly, this can result in an unwanted overlap of regulations.
- Supply Chain: What does the hemp industry require to produce and deliver its goods? First of all, seeds! Industrial hemp production used to be illegal in the US, so getting the seeds doesn’t come without much effort. Most farmers have to import them from places with a long history with hemp, like Canada or Europe. Even if there were plenty of consumers, it would take time for the supply chain to have the capacity to process and develop the products.
- THC Threshold and Genetics: Most American farmers are new to the world of hemp cultivation. Therefore, they don’t know how some of the imported seeds will react to the US climate. For example, a farmer brings a seed from Europe, and, at harvest, the hemp crop tests at above the 0.3 percent THC. What happens then? That crop is now illegal, and the farmer has lost a lot of money on useless hemp.
Every five or six years, Congress decides on a new farm bill that determines the fate of the agricultural and food industry. Policymakers take this opportunity to address industry-related issues. The main concern is, without a doubt, the uncertainty this brings.
Let’s see it this way, would you invest thousands or millions in a CBD manufacturing plant knowing that it could become illegal in a few years? Neither would most people.
What’s Next for Hemp?
Undoubtedly, hemp has huge potential still waiting to be unleashed. With a climate crisis in our hands, some of the most polluting industries may opt to use hemp to cut down their carbon footprint. Such is the case of the agricultural industry that can profit from this crop to feed cattle. Hemp could also help reduce deforestation as the plant can replace lumber in the paper manufacturing industry.
The fashion industry has also been under scrutiny in recent years. Dyes used in fabrics contaminate large bodies of water. Many cotton fields abroad resemble southern plantations because of the conditions their workers face. Moreover, the torture some animals go through for us to have our woolen sweaters is too much. The use of hemp in clothing can create thousands of jobs locally and, at the same time, give the planet a breath.
Despite hemp being closely associated with recreational and medical purposes, its uses are limitless. Saying that the future of our country’s industries and the economy is in the hands of some lawmakers isn’t an overstatement. We can only hope that sensible legislation will be approved sooner than later that’ll incentivize investing in hemp research and manufacturing.
The cannabidiol and hemp industries have been steadily growing all over the world. Though there’s still no consensus, more and more scientists are beginning to recognize hemp’s potential health benefits for humans and animals. Therefore, this 2018 farm bill came to give hemp the status it so clearly deserved.
However, we need to keep in mind that there is still much hard work ahead for this industry. As we have discussed in this article, there are many problems to be solved regarding regulations and the FDA. Moreover, hemp’s extraordinary potential is not being fully developed. Many industries can benefit from using hemp.