President Donald Trump today signed legislation into law that includes language lifting the United States’ decades-long prohibition on domestic, commercial hemp production. The provisions were included within The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (aka ‘The Farm Bill’), which takes effect on January 1, 2019.
“The significance of this law change should not be underemphasized,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “This law marks the first change in the federal classification of the cannabis plant since it was initially classified as a schedule I controlled substance by Congress in 1970, and paves the way for the first federally-sanctioned commercial hemp grows since World War II.”
Language included in the 2014 version of the Farm Bill (Sec. 7606) permitted states to license farmers to cultivate hemp as part of a university-sanction pilot program, but did not allow for the commercialization of the crop.
The hemp-specific provisions of the 2018 Act amend the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 so that hemp plants containing no more than 0.3 percent THC are no longer classified as a schedule I controlled substance under federal law.
The Act also broadens the definition of ‘hemp’ (Section 297A) to include “any part of the plant, including …. extracts [or] cannabinoids” that do not possess greater than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis. To date, various commercial products – such as some CBD oils – are advertised as being derived from hemp, although some experts in the field dispute the notion that such plants are an efficient source for cannabinoids.
The Act (Section 297B) permits those US states that wish to possess “primary regulatory authority over the production of hemp” to submit a plan to the US Secretary of Agriculture. The agency has 60 days to approve, disapprove, or amend the plan. In instances where a state-proposed plan is not approved, “it shall be unlawful to produce hemp in that state … without a license.” Federal grant opportunities will be available to licensed commercial farmers, as will the ability for farmers to obtain crop insurance. The Act does not federally recognize non-licensed, non-commercial hemp cultivation activities.
Nothing in the new language (Section 297D) shall “affect or modify” the existing regulatory powers of the US Food and Drug Administration or other agencies with regard to the enforcement of the US Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics Act or the Public Health Service Act. The FDA has previously acknowledged that it will “take action when we see the illegal marketing of CBD-containing products with unproven medical claims. We’re especially concerned when these products are marketed for serious or life-threatening diseases, where the illegal promotion of an unproven compound could discourage a patient from seeking other therapies that have proven benefits.”
NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said: “These changes represent a significant and long overdue shift in US policy. Nonetheless, future regulatory efforts will likely still be required to address emerging consumer issues when it comes to the commercial sale and marketing of certain hemp-derived products, particularly so-called hemp-derived CBD extracts. For years, many of the producers of these products have navigated in a grey area of the law — manufacturing products of variable and sometimes questionable quality and safety. Now it is time for lawmakers to craft consistent benchmark safety and quality standards for hemp-derived CBD in order to increase consumer satisfaction and confidence as this nascent industry transitions into a legal marketplace.”
What is hemp?
Unlike traditional cannabis, which is primarily grown for the purpose of harvesting its flowers, industrial hemp is a fibrous crop grown mainly for its stalk and seeds — which can be utilized in the manufacturing of textiles, paper, animal feed, food-stuffs and numerous other products. Because only trace levels of THC, the primary psychotropic compound in marijuana, is present in hemp, most countries — including Canada and Japan — appropriately define it as an agricultural crop and not as a controlled substance. In fact, according to the Congressional Research Service, “The United States is the only developed nation in which industrial hemp is not an established crop.”
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol is one of a number of naturally occurring cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. It possesses a number of known therapeutic effects, such as anxioltytic and anti-convulsant effects. Like other cannabinoids, it is most prominent in cannabis flowers, and not in the plant’s stalks. As a result, some experts opine, “Traditional hemp is an inefficient source of CBD.” Federal agencies like the US Food and Drug Administration maintain that CBD sourced from traditional cannabis meets the criteria of a schedule I controlled substance.
Can’t some states already grow hemp?
Yes. Under Sec. 7606 of the 2014 Farm Act, states may license farmers to cultivate hemp as part of a university-sanction pilot program. Over 40 states have enacted legislation permitting such activity.