Hemp Industry Pushes Back Against Marijuana Companies Advocating For Intoxicating Cannabinoid Ban In Farm Bill

Marijuana Moment
Wed, May 15

Hemp businesses, marijuana companies, state regulators, prohibitionists and congressional lawmakers are all vying to have their cannabis priorities represented in the forthcoming Farm Bill. But while there are shared interests among certain stakeholders, some competing proposals have created tension in unexpected ways.

The hemp industry, for example, is at odds with select marijuana companies that are aligned with prohibitionists—with the strange bedfellows in agreement on proposed restrictions on intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoids such as delta-8 THC.

“Policy challenges related to hemp are complex, and several steps are required to fully address them,” U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) Executive Director Edward Conklin said in a letter to congressional leaders last month. “However, the most important and time-sensitive of those steps is within your control and well within the authority of the Farm Bill: Close the loophole created by the current definition of hemp established by the 2018 Farm Bill and create a regulatory pathway for non-intoxicating products.”

The language recommended by USCC, which represents major cannabis companies, would remove intoxicating cannabinoid products intended for consumption from the definition of federally legal hemp and reclassify them as federally illegal marijuana products.

Likewise, the prohibitionist Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) sent out an alert to supporters last week saying they “strongly recommend that the loophole caused by the 2018 Farm Bill definition of hemp be closed by adding clarifying language to the 2024 Farm Bill definition of hemp to explicitly exclude intoxicating semi-synthetic cannabinoids derived from hemp.”

Hemp stakeholders, including the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, meanwhile, recognize that the current statute has allowed an unregulated cannabinoid market to proliferate—sometimes inviting bad actors to the table. But rather than impose an outright ban, which would have a major economic impact on an already struggling market, they’ve proposed enacting robust regulations to mitigate public health and safety concerns.

Shortly after Senate Democrats released a summary of their Farm Bill draft, the association applauded descriptions of provisions to eliminate a ban on industry participation by people with drug-related felonies on their record and reduced regulatory barriers for hemp farmers growing for grain or fiber. It also noted that the summary didn’t signal any substantive change to the definition of hemp that could impact the cannabinoid market.

“Some marijuana organizations have joined prohibitionists to propose bans that could federally criminalize products with any amount of THC, even non-intoxicating full spectrum CBD products,” the Roundtable said. “We continue to lobby Congress against such restrictions and are hopeful that our approach—regulating all products and keeping products that may impair out of the hands of children—will prevail in the end.”

Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the Roundtable, told Marijuana Moment it’s important to remember that “the marijuana industry is not monolithic,” and there are many instances of overlap between the hemp and marijuana sectors.

“But there certainly are some organizations and companies in the marijuana space that view adult hemp products as competition and are upset that there’s less regulation of the hemp products than there are the marijuana products, and so they’ve come to the conclusion that we need to federally ban all these hemp products,” he said in an interview.

At the same time, “there are a lot of marijuana companies who are getting into the hemp space, and the general agreement of the hemp industry and these marijuana companies is: Let’s not go to prohibition, let’s regulate,” Miller said. “And this is what the U.S. Hemp Roundtable has been arguing for years.”

David Culver, senior vice president for USCC, the marijuana industry group, told Marijuana Moment that his organization “supports a uniform approach to THC products.”

“That means intoxicating hemp products should be regulated the same as cannabis products,” he said. “We believe that all of these products should be available for sale to adults with strict age gating and safety standards. Closing the perceived loophole in the Farm Bill would create parity and facilitate state-level regulation, followed by eventual federal legalization of all THC products.”

Of course, marijuana is not currently federally legal and regulated with age limits as USCC desires. And so by putting intoxicating hemp products on par with marijuana again under the Controlled Substances Act, the organization’s proposal would amount to putting a national prohibition back on the books by removing the exemption from the federal definition of marijuana that hemp derivatives currently enjoy.

The House Agriculture Committee didn’t make any mention of hemp policy in its initial Farm Bill summary document circulated earlier this month. Nor did it include the policy issue in an updated and expanded summary that was released on Friday. Politico reported last week that the chair of that panel, Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) said that hemp is one of the final issues members are working to resolve in their draft.

Thompson also said that he’s heard from members on both sides of the aisle who support and oppose redefining hemp to close a “loophole” on intoxicating products.

As of now, it’s not clear from the documents posted by the House and Senate committees what language addressing the definition of hemp could actually be in the chambers’ respective Farm Bill legislation when the proposals are unveiled.

But with a House committee markup scheduled for next Thursday, it will soon be revealed where that panel falls on the issue.

Reid Stewart, CEO of cannabis concentrate manufacturer Frozen Fields, said in a press release last week that the “ambiguity” of the Senate summary on hemp redefinition “is alarming for the hemp industry, especially considering the potential implications.”

“The proposed redefinition of hemp could jeopardize the livelihoods of over 50,000 small businesses that sprang up following previous legislation,” he said. “It seems counterproductive for the federal government to potentially criminalize hemp—an industry born from laws it enacted, especially when past policies on similar issues have not only failed but also contributed to the mass incarceration of hundreds of thousands of people.”

State marijuana regulators, meanwhile, are proposing a different kind of remedy, calling on Congress to update the agriculture legislation with legislation clarifying states’ rights to enact their own regulations for hemp-based intoxicating cannabinoids, citing instances where there’s been litigation asserting that federal law preempts such rulemaking.

“Federal clarification of states’ existing authority is thus essential to allow states to continue to protect public health and integrity in the hemp industry—as the 2018 Farm Bill always intended,” three executives with the Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) said in a letter to congressional leaders on Monday.

CANNRA had previously recommended to Congress in a letter last year that lawmakers adjust the federal definition of hemp and modify rules around hemp-derived cannabinoids.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Climate Solutions Caucus also sent a letter to leaders of the House Agriculture Committee late last week that urged them to attach to the Farm Bill language from separate bipartisan legislation that would reduce regulations on farmers that grow industrial hemp for non-extraction purposes.

Under the standalone bicameral measures, farmers that cultivate industrial hemp would no longer be subject to background checks in order to participate in the market, and they wouldn’t have to fulfill rigorous sampling and testing requirements.

Separately, with respect to lifting the felony conviction ban for hemp farmers as described in the Senate Farm Bill summary, Reps. David Trone (D-MD), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Nancy Mace (R-SC) introduced the “Free to Grow Act” last year. They said upon introduction that it would end what they called a “discriminatory” federal policy barring people with prior felony drug convictions from owning or leading legal hemp businesses.

Pingree also introduced legislation last session titled the “Hemp Advancement Act” that would reduce regulatory barriers for hemp farmers cultivating the crop for fiber or grain, while enacting other changes favored by stakeholders such as increasing the THC threshold for legal hemp from 0.3 percent THC by dry weight to one percent.

Lawmakers and stakeholders have also been eyeing a number of other proposals that could be incorporated into the Farm Bill, including measures to free up hemp businesses to legally market products like CBD as dietary supplements or in the food supply.

— Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments. Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access. —

Meanwhile, the hemp market started to rebound in 2023 after suffering significant losses the prior year, the latest annual industry report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that was released last month found.

The data is the result of a survey that USDA mailed to thousands of hemp farmers across the U.S. in January. The first version of the department’s hemp report was released in early 2022, setting a “benchmark” to compare to as the industry matures.

Bipartisan lawmakers and industry stakeholders have sharply criticized FDA for declining to enact regulations for hemp-derived CBD, which they say is largely responsible for the economic stagnation.

To that end, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf testified before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee last month, where he faced questions about the agency’s position that it needed additional congressional authorization to regulate the non-intoxicating cannabinoid.

USDA is also reportedly revoking hemp licenses for farmers who are simultaneously growing marijuana under state-approved programs, underscoring yet another policy conflict stemming from the ongoing federal prohibition of some forms of the cannabis plant.

For the time being, the hemp industry continues to face unique regulatory hurdles that stakeholders blame for the crop’s value plummeting in the short years since its legalization. Despite the economic conditions, however, a recent report found that the hemp market in 2022 was larger than all state marijuana markets, and it roughly equaled sales for craft beer nationally.

Meanwhile, internally at USDA, food safety workers are being encouraged to exercise caution and avoid cannabis products, including federally legal CBD, as the agency observes an “uptick” in positive THC tests amid “confusion” as more states enact legalization

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