STATE OF HEMP
A federal hemp lobbyist breaks down the national progress that was made and missed in 2017 on the issue of hemp legalization.
This piece was originally published in The Hemp Mag on January 8, 2018
2017 was a big year for industrial hemp indeed.
In November, Vote Hemp released their annual hemp crop report, showing over 24,841 acres of hemp were grown in 19 states this year, more than doubling from 2016’s historic 9,770 acres in 15 states. An additional 17 states have passed hemp legislation, but are not yet growing the plant.
All of this hemp is growing legally under state laws and Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill, titled “The Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research.” This landmark language allows universities and state agricultural departments to conduct a broad range of pilot programs, and has laid the foundation for a new American industry. 2018 may yet be hemp’s watershed year.
LEGISLATIVE MOMENTUM In 2005, then-Congressman Ron Paul introduced the first Industrial Hemp Farming Act (IHFA), and legislative momentum behind hemp has only been building since then. The amount of support for similar bills has grown almost exponentially every session, and during the 2016 legislative session, H.R. 525 (The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015) had 75 bipartisan cosponsors in the House, and another 16 in the Senate, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. This legislation is uniquely bipartisan, bringing together champions from across the country and political spectrum.
In addition to the momentum behind the IHFA, we have passed numerous amendments through Congress, since the passage of the landmark Farm Bill amendment. Using the omnibus appropriations process, hemp lobbyists such as myself have secured into law numerous amendments that prohibit funds from being used by the federal government to hinder hemp pilot programs. These amendments have put numerous roll call votes through the House and Senate appropriations committees, and like in the Farm Bill, the amendments were secured and even expanded in conference by the powerful Senate majority leader.
Moving into 2018, the 115th Congress is widely viewed as pivotal. Former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner and hemp champion Rep. James Comer has taken the lead on the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, now H.R. 3530. New changes have been made to the bill to help bring us towards a new paradigm of support. Some of the changes are good, like expanding the definition of research hemp to 0.6 percent THC and establishing sovereignty over hemp on tribal lands.
Some sections of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, however, could be used to try to allow unnecessary enforcement against CBD industry. I believe that Sections 4 and 5 of the new IHFA show too much overreach of the federal government. Section 4 of the IHFA would allow inspections of hemp at every level of processing under the Controlled Substances Act and Section 5 asserts that the bill does not change the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which has implications for whether or not a company can make health claims about CBD. However, these changes to the Industrial Hemp Farming Bill were necessary to garner important support from our former foe-turned-hemp leader, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte. There are now at least three groups pushing hemp on Capitol Hill. Vote Hemp grew out of the Hemp Industries Association back in 2000 and continues to have a leading voice on the hill. New organizations are now working together to help us cross the finish line: the National Hemp Association, under new leadership, and the Hemp Roundtable, a coalition of over 30 companies, with close connections to Kentucky politics. Together, we are excited about the real potential of finally moving this legislation forward.
Some sections of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, however, could be used to try to allow unnecessary enforcement against CBD industry. I believe that Sections 4 and 5 of the new IHFA show too much overreach of the federal government. Section 4 of the IHFA would allow inspections of hemp at every level of processing under the Controlled Substances Act and Section 5 asserts that the bill does not change the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which has implications for whether or not a company can make health claims about CBD.
ANTICIPATING A BOUNTIFUL 2018 We expect 2018 will be pivotal for a number of reasons. With support from the judiciary chairman, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act now has real likelihood for a hearing or vote in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, we are expecting a similar bill to be introduced any day, and with the majority leader’s support, the IHFA could move from the House through the Senate like a tractor goes from one field to another. There are many moving parts and lots on the agenda for Congress, but we now have an actual path to passage.
In addition to our stand-alone legislation, there are more balls in the air for the hemp industry. Almost 20 years ago, the DEA tried to ban all hemp products using a “zero tolerance” policy. The Hemp Industries Association sued the DEA and, in 2014, won the right to build an industry that is now estimated to be worth $688 million. The DEA has tried to derail our efforts ever since, so in 2017, the Hoban Law Group — together with a coalition of companies and supporters — has sued the DEA again. Oral arguments will be heard early in the year, to show that hemp extracts, like extracts from any other legal plant, are health and nutraceutical products available for anyone. In addition, the 2018 Farm Bill is on the legislative agenda, which offers another opportunity for hemp to be included.
Over half of all hemp grown in the U.S. is for CBD, representing huge growth and opportunity. However, the FDA has already raised flags, and has sent warning letters to CBD companies in 2015, 2016 and 2017. This past Halloween, the FDA sent new letters to four companies, foreshadowing the New Drug Application for the pharmaceutical Epidiolex, which is currently under review.
Despite all of the potential for healing from CBD products, there is still uncertainty in the industry. That is why it is as important as ever to stay active, and call your state representatives and members of Congress to urge them to support the strongest hemp legislation possible.
This piece was originally published in HEMP’s Issue 2, coming out on newsstands now. SUBSCRIBE HERE.