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  • Writer's pictureJamie


The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 aka The Farm Bill has finally been approved by President Trump after many delays. Renewed once every five years since 1933, The Farm Bill outlines regulations for everything agriculture but not limited to environmental land use. This version however is different than its predecessors; it legalizes industrial hemp, to include the plants used to make CBD oil. Popularity of CBD is on the rise due to its therapeutic properties. However, it has existed in a gray area in terms of legality and varied by statewide. Despite its debatable legality, it is everywhere from drinks to health products, has gone over $350 million in consumer sales in 2017 — and it’s expected to grow now that the bill is law. While the previous passage of the 2014 Farm Bill alleviated some federal regulations on CBD production, this dives deeper. More importantly, it removes hemp and any hemp derivative from the Controlled Substances Act. It legally separates hemp from marijuana and putting its guardianship under the Department of Agriculture. Basically, plants will serve three primary uses: fiber (paper and cloth), seeds (for hemp oil and food), and cannabinoid oils. The last category is the most profitable and has the biggest potential for growth. Any part or derivative of cannabis with a THC level below 0.3 percent on a dry-weight basis will be defined as hemp in the bill. Also noted, the bill creates new regulations as well as gray areas. First, it bars anyone convicted of a drug felony from working in the hemp industry for 10 years after the date of their conviction. In previous drafts, people convicted of drug felonies had been banned entirely. The final draft allows for individuals to have a second chance after time.

State are required to submit a plan to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) about how they’ll move forward with cultivation of hemp. If the state government doesn’t choose to make a plan, producers can submit to the federal government directly. It is uncertain whether or not this will be a roadblock. Drug scheduling is an additional topic of interest. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) maintains a list of all drugs, organized into five categories, “depending upon the drug’s acceptable medical use and the drug’s abuse or dependency potential,” stated on their website. Earlier in the year, the DEA reclassified FDA-approved drugs that contain CBD and no more than 0.1 percent THC from Schedule I, the most serious category, to the lowest category, Schedule V, along with prescription cough syrups and painkillers. However, the farm bill completely removes all hemp plants and derivatives with much higher THC levels, 0.3 percent from the drug schedule.

This introduces alluring questions not just about legality, but prescriptions. Under the DEA’s framework, a doctor’s prescription, however under the Farm Bill it doesn’t. Rolling Stone magazine posed the questions, “Will DEA rules still apply to “FDA-approved” CBD products, but with the USDA not requiring future products to submit for FDA approval? Will there be some class of prescription-only CBD products approved by the FDA, and a lower class of unapproved over-the-counter products? Or will the farm bill entirely override the DEA rules?” Currently, there is only one CBD product, Epidiolex, approved by FDA to treat a rare form of childhood-onset epilepsy. In multiple places on the bill — for example, Section 12515, “Prohibition on Slaughter of Dogs and Cats for Human Consumption” — there is boilerplate language saying the bill doesn’t prevent a state or local government from making a “law or regulation that is more stringent than this section.” This is basically saying if you want to regulate animal welfare more closely than we have here, go ahead. Basically, this same language — any state can enact laws “more stringent than this subtitle” — appears in the hemp section, though its meanings are widely different. Idaho, Nebraska and South Dakota are the only states where any form of marijuana is illegal, and South Dakota has laws specifically banning CBD. These few words in the bill appear to allow those laws to continue. Despite these obstacles, hemp and cannabis advocates are celebrating the bill as a win. “It’s a game changer,” says Erin Holland, CMO of hemp genetics company Tree of Life Seeds, a breeder of farming hemp seeds. “We’re very excited about it. Right now, we face a lot of hurdles with banking and other things. I can’t put a paid ad on Facebook, or though Google because we’re considered a drug. This is going to open a lot of doors for us.” “This is a watershed moment for CBD in the United States,” says Bethany Gomez, director of research, at the cannabis and CBD market research organization Brightfield Group. “With hemp and all of its derivatives officially removed from the controlled substances act, CBD moves from a legal gray area into the light … this shift will allow for CBD to make its way to the shelves of larger scale, mainstream distribution channels and pave the way for the large mainstream consumer packaged goods companies in industries like drinks, beauty, pet, skin care and tobacco to develop CBD products and capitalize on this emerging industry.” This amendment addition of the bill is primarily due to the work of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who stresses that being pro-hemp is not the same as being pro-marijuana. “I do not have any plans to endorse the legalization of marijuana,” he said in a May press conference, adding that marijuana and hemp are “two entirely separate plants.” He later called marijuana hemp’s “illicit cousin” whom he chooses “not to embrace.”

McConnell has been pushing to legalize hemp since 2013, when he fought for the authorization of small pilot programs allowing the cultivation of industrial hemp. One of those pilot programs was located in Kentucky, where it is very popular. According to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, in 2017, 198 growers planted 3,271 acres, the highest number recorded. That is up from just 33 acres in 2014, in the first year of the program. The illegality of hemp is a longstanding debate topic for marijuana legalization advocates, showing the senselessness of U.S. drug policy. Despite being cultivated for thousands of years for things like clothing, rope and food, hemp production in the United States has been illegal for most of the Twentieth Century. United States with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, it began to be seriously regulated. This was the first large-scale effort to criminalize marijuana, which made no distinction between low-THC hemp and high-THC marijuana. Formalized in 1970, is when the Controlled Substances Act legally classified hemp as a Schedule I drug. “With this Farm Bill, people who were scared to get involved are now waving around millions of dollars,” says Tree of Life Seeds’ CEO Jason Martin. “It really hasn’t changed anything about the infrastructure of the business, but people who on the fence are now eager to get in.”

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