A bipartisan pair of U.S. senators have filed a bill to reduce regulations on farmers that grow industrial hemp for non-extraction purposes.
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Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Mike Braun (R-IN) introduced the Industrial Hemp Act on Thursday—the latest piece of congressional legislation focused on the crop, which was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
As it stands, hemp and its derivatives like CBD that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight are not controlled substances, and regulatory responsibility falls with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The new bill seeks to create a distinction between “industrial” hemp that’s grown for products like fiber and “hemp for any purpose” which would cover crops cultivated to extract cannabinoids like CBD.
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.
Instead, they would simply have to go through an annual visual inspection, where they would need to demonstrate that they’re growing the crop for a purpose covered under the new “industrial hemp” definition. If they failed the initial visual review they would then need to provide documentation demonstrating “a clear intent and in-field practices consistent with the designation” of industrial hemp. Only if they refused to do so would regulators then be empowered to physically test harvested plant material.
“Montana farmers don’t need government bureaucrats putting unnecessary burdens on their operations,” Tester said in a press release. “It’s time we cut red tape, and make it easier for industrial hemp farmers to get their product to market. My bipartisan bill builds on Montana’s leadership on hemp policy and creates good-paying jobs for folks across rural America.”
Braun added that it’s “important that we set American farmers up for success by cutting burdensome regulations and red tape.”
“This legislation will expand opportunities for industrial hemp producers in Indiana and across the country and allow them to tap into one of the fastest growing agricultural markets,” the senator said.
The measure also preempts states and tribes from enacting requirements on industrial hemp growers that are more stringent than those laid out in the bill. It further provides that anyone who knowingly produces hemp crops that are inconsistent with their designation will be ineligible to participate in the legal hemp industry for a period of five years.
This bill’s introduction comes as discussions are heating up over the next iteration of the Farm Bill, in which lawmakers will likely try to include provisions to further ease burdens on the hemp market. Stakeholders have backed several standalone measures that tackle the issue so far this Congress.
For example, a group of House lawmakers introduced a bill this month that seeks to end what they say is a “discriminatory” federal policy that bars people with prior felony drug convictions from owning or leading legal hemp businesses.
Another pair of bipartisan lawmakers recently refiled bills meant to provide a pathway for the regulation of hemp derivatives like CBD as dietary supplements and food and beverage additives.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in January that it would not be creating rules to allow the marketing of CBD as dietary supplements or food items, leaving the massive industry without regulations despite repeated calls for administrative action from lawmakers, advocates and stakeholders.
Following a “careful review” of the non-intoxicating cannabinoid, FDA said it reached the conclusion that the existing regulatory pathways that are in place for other dietary supplements and food additives will not work for CBD. Instead, the agency said that wants to “work with Congress on a new way forward.”
FDA’s announcement came days after the agency released finalized guidance that focuses on developing cannabis-based drugs and outlined the process and unique considerations for scientists when it comes to hemp and marijuana.
Meanwhile, House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY), said in January that he was preparing to confront FDA over their failure to enact regulations for hemp-derived products like CBD.
Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY) sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf last year, demanding answers over the continued lack of regulations for CBD for commercial purposes.
At a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing last year, FDA’s Califf recognized that the agency had moved slowly with rulemaking for CBD in the food supply, stating that the situation “looks pretty much the same in terms of where we are now” as compared to when he first worked on the issue in 2016.
He said the FDA has taken steps to research the safety profile of cannabinoids to inform future rules, but he also punted the criticism about inaction to Congress, saying he doesn’t feel that “the current authorities we have on the food side or the drug side necessarily give us what we need to have to get the right pathways forward.”
“We’re going to have to come up with something new,” Califf said. “I’m very committed to doing that.”
FDA also recently touted its role helping a state agency crack down on a company selling delta-8 THC gummies that they said are linked to “serious adverse events.”
In November, the agency sent warning letters to five companies that sell foods and beverages containing CBD.
The agency didn’t specify why it targeted those particular five companies out of the many more that market similar cannabidiol-infused consumables, but it said that they sell products “that people may confuse for traditional foods or beverages which may result in unintentional consumption or overconsumption of CBD.”
All of this comes in the background of a major task for FDA: Conducting a scientific review into marijuana, at the direction of President Joe Biden, to aid in an assessment of its federal scheduling. FDA’s recommendation won’t be binding, but officials say they expect DEA to product a scheduling recommendation that’s consistent with their findings about its risks and benefits.