KY Congressman Introduces Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017
Congressman Jamie Comer (R – KY) introduced the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017 this week in the House of Representatives, but as it stands now, the bill does more harm than good. The bill is supported by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R – VA), Rep. Jared Polis (D – CO) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R – KY).
The bill removes hemp from the definition of ‘marihuana’ under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), but it doesn’t remove hemp from the DEA’s jurisdiction, a move industry activists and business-owners have been fighting for decades.
Nearly every year a Congressman introduces a new Industrial Hemp Farming Act that would remove hemp from the CSA, but every year, the bill doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves. But this year might be the year.
The new Trump Administration has promised to shake things up, and given Trump’s anti-regulation, nationalistic agenda, de-regulating an industry that reduces our dependence on foreign imports while creating American jobs aligns perfectly. But if this current bill makes its way to the President’s desk, it won’t grow the industry. It will hurt the industry.
Will this be the year hemp is finally removed from the Controlled Substance Act?
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly... In Reverse
The Ugly – No Processor Protection
The absolute worst portion of the bill is skillfully placed right in the middle of the document. The bill describes what the definition of “industrial hemp” includes, then specifies:
“The term does not include any such plant, or part or derivative thereof, that has been altered so as to increase the delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration above the limits specified [over 0.3% THC].”
In most situations this sentence makes complete sense because hemp does not legally include anything above 0.3% THC; however, to a careful reader this sentence destroys 70% of the current U.S. hemp production because it limits the processing of CBD.
Similar to alcohol, when extracting the cannabinoids out of hemp, the output of the extraction is highly concentrated. With liquor, the concentration is normally diluted with water before bottling and selling to consumers. When extracting cannabinoids from hemp, a similar phenomenon occurs, but processors unintentionally create highly concentrated THC. This concentration is diluted or removed from the CBD formulation before bottling and selling.
However, the current bill language does not protect the processor. At all. Instead the bill makes an essential process for producing CBD products that is currently legally protected, illegal.
Prohibiting the processing of CBD would not only seriously impact production, but farmers and processors, who have invested millions to operate these farms and facilities specifically for CBD would flounder. In addition, it would create scarcity in the open market for CBD, driving prices upwards, making them less affordable for individuals that rely on CBD for their ailments.
This language MUST be changed.
The Bad – Reporting and Inspections
Under the 2014 Farm Bill states with proper legislation were legally able to conduct research within Department’s of Agriculture and institutions of higher education. States like Kentucky, Colorado, Oregon and Tennessee took an early lead on the research, allowing farmers to conduct the research under a licensing program. It also permits processors to establish pilot scale facilities to process the raw material into health foods, fibers and hemp extracts like CBD.
Under the Farm Bill’s Hemp Pilot Program, the licensed participants report to their State’s department of agriculture who then report to the Department of Justice. In addition to the Farm Bill, the 2015 and 2016 Omnibus Bills limited the DEA’s spending of federal dollars to interfere with the program.
These bills provided protection for farmers and processors; however, this new bill does the opposite. Instead of loosening the reporting restrictions, it states that the Attorney General, or whomever the Department of Justice chooses, may make administrative inspections in places where industrial hemp is produced or stored. The details as to frequency, personnel, and warrants are still under the jurisdiction of the Controlled Substance Act and therefore the DEA.
The Good – Silver Linings
There are a few positive notes in the bill.
1. The basis of the bill excludes hemp from the definition of marihuana and defines hemp as a non-narcotic agricultural commodity.
Despite being legal to grow in every other industrialized nation, industrial hemp, a non-psychoactive superfood, nutriceutical and fiber crop has been regulated as marihuana under the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) Controlled Substance Act (CSA) since its inception in 1970.
2. The bill also defines “industrial hemp” as “any part or derivative of such plant (including viable seeds)…” below 0.3% THC. This definition means not only the seeds but also the flowers of the plant are protected, which is essential for protecting the CBD industry.
In January 2017 the Department of Justice (i.e. DEA), USDA and Department of Health and Human Services (i.e. FDA), who holds a patent on cannabinoids as a neuroprotectant and antioxidant, tried to specify in their infamous Statement of Principles that hemp did not include the flowers of the plant. This Statement came with intense backlash from the industry and State department’s of agriculture and included a federal lawsuit. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017 gives (almost) no case for confusion.
3. The hemp bill protects the production, storage, distribution or use of hemp within tribal jurisdictions.
In the past, despite tribal protection, the DEA has infiltrated tribal lands arresting and prosecuting farmers for growing hemp. This has been such controversy in the past that National Geographic wrote a feature article on the story.
4. It expands the legal THC threshold for “research hemp” to up to 0.6% THC.
The 0.3% THC limit is an arbitrary limit. This research will provide support for either expanding or keeping the limit at 0.3% THC. Considering that we have barely been able to research hemp at all for the last eighty years, any expansion in hemp research is a big bonus. FYI 0.6% THC is still significantly less than psychoactive cannabis (5%+ THC).
5. It specifies that retailers and users do not need to comply with the reporting requirements.
This has never been an issue for users, but selling CBD has has been an issue for some retailers. This language could still be strengthened.
In addition to the current language, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017 seriously lacks to clarify and resolve some ongoing issues. For instance, it is assumed that the removal of hemp from the Controlled Substance Act will open insurance and federal grant opportunities while reducing banking and finance barriers; but the bill does not mention any of this. This is essential for industry growth.
It’s Still A Long Road Ahead
Fortunately, this is the first iteration of this bill, so there is still plenty of time to amend language. In addition, another Industrial Hemp Farming Act will be introduced in the Senate in the coming months. If neither bills pass, there will still be opportunity to make distinguishing language in the re-authorization of the 2018 Farm Bill.
No matter how successful the bills, one thing is for certain, there is still a massive stigma to overcome and decades of research to conduct.
This is just the tip of the iceberg.