After a lengthy compromise process, The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill) was passed on December 12, 2018 by Congress and delivered to the White House for the President to sign. The 2018 Farm Bill will replace the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2014, which expired on September 30, 2018. Distributing more than $850 billion, the 2018 Farm Bill is an enormous piece of legislation and funds programs such as crop insurance, school lunches, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Integrated into the massive omnibus Farm Bill is the bipartisan Hemp Farming Act of 2018, spearheaded by Senator Mitch McConnell. The Hemp Farming Act will legalize at the federal level the production of industrial hemp, defined as Cannabis sativa L. plants containing less than three-tenths of a percent of THC, the intoxicating chemical in marijuana. The low concentration of THC makes these plants unsuitable for marijuana production, which remains federally illegal.

First and foremost, the 2018 Farm Bill will abolish this inconsistent treatment by removing industrial hemp from the definition of “marihuana” in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). In addition, tetrahydrocannabinols contained in industrial hemp will be removed from the purview of the CSA. This amendment to the CSA will decriminalize the production and use of the Cannabis sativa L. plant and its derived products that match the definition of industrial hemp, such as hemp seed oil, CBD oil, hemp fibers and hemp paper. Continue Reading Industrial Hemp: On the Brink of Legalization

On May 31, Husch Blackwell Cannabis team members Steve Levine and Marshall Custer will present on Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Industries: The Impact on Colorado’s Economy at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. They will provide industry and legal insight related to the burgeoning marijuana and industrial hemp industries in Colorado. The program will also explore how not only operators are capitalizing on opportunities but also how ancillary businesses are also thriving. The program will be held from 7 to 9 a.m. at the Chamber.

Yesterday, Senator Mitch McConnell spoke to a group of hemp advocates in his home state of Kentucky that he will introduce legislation to legalize industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity.  If approved, Sen. McConnell’s legislation would allow states to control their own hemp regulations by removing federal restrictions.

What does this mean?

While industrial hemp has benefited from the 2014 Farm Bill and related state programs, there is still a considerable grey area surrounding the legality and commercialization of industrial hemp, including CBD, in the United States.  The Federal government has long taken the position that general commercialization of industrial hemp is NOT permitted in all 50 states and the DEA’s new definition for “Marihuana Extract” includes: “an extract containing one or more cannabinoids that has been derived from any plant of the genus Cannabis, other than the separated resin (whether crude or purified) obtained from the plant.” It should be noted that this definition of “Marihuana Extract” includes CBD isolate that is extracted from industrial hemp.  While Sen. MConnell’s legislation has not yet been released as of posting of this blog, the hope is that it will provide clarity on not only legalizing industrial hemp but also providing clear guidance on the legality of cannabinoids derived from industrial hemp.

The USDA retracted its previous policy today and has permitted the organic certification of industrial hemp by certified agents accredited by the NOP, if produced in accordance with USDA organic regulations.  For imported hemp, existing regulations and guidelines continue to govern whether products may be certified as organic.

What does this mean?

Industrial hemp cultivated under Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill) that authorizes institutions of higher education and state departments of agriculture to establish industrial hemp research pilot programs in states where the production of industrial hemp is legal can now be certified organic.  This is a positive step for the industry and it is further evidence that industrial hemp will hopefully be legalized in the near future.

The US Department of Agriculture provided statements of principals on industrial hemp, in consultation with the DEA and the FDA, to inform the public how Federal law applies to activities associated with industrial hemp that is grown in accordance with the Agricultural Act of 2014.  Generally, the statement of principles are consistent with my previous posts about the inability to generally commercialize industrial hemp grown in the US in compliance with Federal law.  I have excerpted a few statements that industrial hemp businesses should pay close attention to, with a few comments from me in italics:

  • For purposes of marketing research by institutions of higher education or State departments of agriculture (including distribution of marketing materials), but not for the purpose of general commercial activity, industrial hemp products may be sold in a State with an agricultural pilot program or among States with agricultural pilot programs but may not be sold in States where such sale is prohibited. Industrial hemp plants and seeds may not be transported across State lines.While this provides some latitude to make certain sales of “industrial hemp products” for purposes of marketing research, it is explicitly clear that general commercialization in all 50 states is NOT permitted and the commercialization of industrial hemp products not in connection with market research is prohibited.  Further, it is also clear that the sale of plants or seeds across state lines if forbidden.
  • Section 7606 specifically authorized certain entities to “grow or cultivate” industrial hemp but did not eliminate the requirement under the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act that the importation of viable cannabis seeds must be carried out by persons registered with the DEA to do so. In addition, any USDA phytosanitary requirements that normally would apply to the importation of plant material will apply to the importation of industrial hemp seed.This should not be a surprise.  The CSA continues to control and germinated seeds are prohibited from being imported unless registered with the DEA to do so.
  • The Federal Government does not construe section 7606 to alter the requirements of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) that apply to the manufacture, distribution, and dispensing of drug products containing controlled substances. Manufacturers, distributors, dispensers of drug products derived from cannabis plants, as well as those conducting research with such drug products, must continue to adhere to the CSA requirements.This appears to be directed at the extraction market for CBD and other cannabidiols.

President Obama approved the 2016 federal budget and it contained a prohibition that none of the funds made available to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States that have state-legal medical marijuana programs, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

In addition, the 2016 federal budget also prohibits the use of any funds made available to any agency that might be used in contravention of the Agricultural Act of 2014 or prohibit the transportation, processing, sale, or use of industrial hemp that is grown or cultivated in accordance with the Agricultural Act of 2014, within or outside the state in which industrial hemp is grown or cultivated.

What does this mean to you?

Medical Marijuana – Similar to the 2015 Federal Budget, this prohibition only covers “medical marijuana” and not “recreational marijuana.”  As I have stated before, this does not prevent the Department of Justice from using funds to prevent recreational marijuana programs from implementing laws.  While this is a continued step in the right direction, the prohibition does not extend to state-legal recreational marijuana.

Industrial Hemp – This is also a positive step for the industrial hemp industry for those operating under the Agricultural Act of 2014.  This will allow the continued cultivation of industrial hemp for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research.  However, this does not allow industrial hemp to be sold for commercial purposes.  For a State like Colorado, that allows the commercialization of industrial hemp.  You should contact your legal counsel to discuss the implications prior to selling any products.