by Matie Belle Lakish

After nearly a century of suppression, one of mankind’s oldest and most versatile fiber plants has finally been freed for use in the U.S.A.. Hemp, the fiber used in the sails that brought European settlers to America, can again be grown and used for myriad products as a result of its inclusion in the 2018 Farm Bill passed in early December by the U.S. Congress. The definition portion of the Farm Bill related to hemp reads as follows:

‘‘(1) HEMP.—The term ‘hemp’ means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” Thus states Subtitle G—Hemp Production Sec. 297A. Definitions, of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, otherwise known as the Farm Bill, which was passed on December 11, 2018 by the U. S. Senate, 87 to 13, and the next day, by the House of Representatives, 369 to 47. Both Senators from Colorado, Michael Bennett and Cory Gardner, sponsored the bill, and governor-elect Jared Polis sponsored it in the House of Representatives. President Trump is expected to sign it.

Although marijuana and THC will still be illegal, the language in this bill makes it sound like hemp and CBD (cannabidiol, a non-hallucinogenic extract from hemp) and other hemp products will now be able to be bought, sold and traded like any other farm commodity. But there are limitations.

The Drug Enforcement Agency still considers CBD to be a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance, while the Food and Drug Administration agrees. Unless and until this is changed, CBD oils and salves and such will still be illegal. David Hones, in www.leafly.com, writes that “according to David Mangone, director of government affairs for Americans for Safe Access, federal agencies will now have to respond to the farm bill, once it becomes law, by adjusting their policies regarding CBD. ‘The DEA will have to issue a rescheduling position on CBD that is consistent with this farm bill in the coming weeks,’ Mangone says. ‘The FDA will also have to change their policies about CBD in edibles and dietary supplements as well to reflect this new law.’ But don’t expect perfect clarity. ‘There will still be that conflict between DEA and the Department of Agriculture about how to regulate this.’ Mangone says that he thinks new federal regulations about hemp production will come during the first months of 2019.”

A second reason that CBD may not be readily available is that the new Farm Bill sets very specific criteria for the growing and processing of hemp products. The grower of hemp must register the precise location of the property whereon the hemp is to be grown and must undergo a testing procedure to assure that the products do not contain more than the legal .3% of THC. This will likely limit small-scale sales of homegrown products. The bill also describes penalties for not following these rules.  

The Farm Bill gives considerable power to the states to regulate hemp production and product development, so long as it does not conflict with the new federal regulations. States are at liberty to create their own rules within federal parameters, but if they choose not to do so, federal guidelines will apply.

The Farm Bill has some real positives for hemp growers. No longer will it be illegal to carry hemp across state lines. Research into the production and uses of hemp will now be eligible for federal funding. Approved hemp growers can now use the general banking system without the uncertainty of federal prosecution. Federal crop insurance will now be available to approved growers.

The Farm Bill, of course, covers many aspects of agriculture other than the legalization of hemp. The Department of Agriculture also regulates and administers several farm programs and forestry programs, as well as commodity food distribution. A hotly contested issue was whether recipients of food stamps, aka SNAP, would be forced to work. Currently, single adults under the age of 50 are required to seek employment. Many conservatives in the House wanted to expand that to older Americans and families with older children. The provision had been included in an earlier House version of the bill, but was opposed by the Senate. It did not appear in the final bill.

The U.S. Forest Service is a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and there was concern that the House version made drastic changes to management of National Forests, the NEPA process, Roadless Areas, and the Endangered Species Act. These threats to forests were also removed in the final bill.

Michael Bennett, Democratic Senator from Colorado said, “The farmers and ranchers of Colorado wrote enormous parts of this legislation, and what passed today is a reflection of their priorities.”

“In the Senate Agriculture Committee, we don’t have partisan differences—we have regional differences that we resolve. That’s because farmers and ranchers don’t have the luxury of pretending politics is the only thing that matters. They’re focused on handing the next generation more opportunity. That’s what this bill does.”