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Cannabis—and the devil’s cannabinoid, THC—are all the rage, but hemp and CBD have recently been gaining just as much national attention.
The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill made hemp farming legal, which led many to assume that hemp, and the CBD that can be processed from it, would immediately be free from the stigma and regulations we impose on THC. Instead, we’ve seen a baffling mix of seizures and arrests for those producing and possessing CBD products, thanks to outdated rules from federal regulatory agencies.
In an article from March, the National Law Review clarified the hemp- and CBD-related parts of the Farm Bill: “Any cannabis plant or product that contains more than 0.3 percent THC will still be considered marijuana under federal law.” With such a classification, those products then become subject to individual states’ laws regarding cannabis and can’t leave the state where they’re produced.
When the Farm Bill went into effect, the FDA released a statement saying it has (as sumarized by the National Law Review) “the authority to regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and that it will treat those products as it does any other FDA-regulated product. In the statement, the FDA expressed its concern over the number of CBD products that are marketed with claims of therapeutic benefit without having been approved by the FDA.” Products marketed for “the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of diseases (such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, psychiatric disorders and diabetes) are considered new drugs” and need to go through a lengthy and expensive drug-approval process.
So that’s where hemp and CBD are at on a federal level. What about state laws?
Officials in Reno, Nevada, recently seized 3,000 pounds of CBD-infused chocolate. The LiveKaya brand had distribution in 35 states until June, when Washoe County officials seized the chocolates. Since the county hasn’t yet developed its own CBD regulations, they decided to abide by federal rules, which do not have CBD listed as a “safe food additive.” The chocolates sit in a refrigerated warehouse while court challenges continue.
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In North Carolina, the House is considering a measure that would ban the sale of smokable hemp, arguing that because hemp and cannabis flowers look and smell identical, law enforcement can’t tell the difference. (If that’s true for your weed, I’m sorry.) “As long as smokable hemp is legal for use and sale in North Carolina, marijuana laws are virtually unenforceable,” said the legal counsel for the state’s Association of Chiefs of Police. The North Carolina hemp industry offered to pay new taxes to fund equipment that would help law enforcement distinguish between the two, which is kind of like a starting a Kickstarter campaign for Barney Fife.
Meanwhile, the creation of new rules for CBD at the federal level are moving slowly, despite pressure from elected officials. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden called out the FDA’s recent announcement that it would take three to five years for the complete rules to be written. Wyden said that timeframe was “fully unacceptable” and that “regulatory confusion and uncertainty surrounding CBD cannot continue for that length of time.” He urged an “enforcement discretion guidance” by August 1. (The USDA plans to release new rules for hemp producers in August as well.)
During a recent public comment period, the FDA received more than 4,000 comments about adding CBD to food and supplements. They now say their initial report will be out by fall.
Despite these challenges, Oregon is still leading the charge in CBD research. In July, the Eugene Register-Guard reported “there are 1,642 registered hemp farmers in Oregon compared to 584 registered last year,” and they have “registered to plant more than 53,000 acres.” Those growers are doing so without access to crop insurance or banking, raising their costs and risks compared to other agricultural product producers.
In June, Oregon State University (OSU) opened its Global Hemp Innovation Center, which the Register-Guard says is “the largest hemp lab in the country. Hemp researchers are now eligible to receive competitive federal grants through the USDA. The lab aims to innovate across several fields including food, product testing and cultivation by combining 40 members of OSU faculty, working across 19 academic disciplines to help address hemp’s full potential.”
That potential is still being mapped, and it stands to reason that academics will see the full picture long before Washington, DC, does.