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House Committee Schedules Hearing With FDA Head To Talk Hemp Regulations And Other Issues Next Week

A congressional committee has announced that it is calling in the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to testify on hemp regulatory issues as a way to hold him “accountable” amid ongoing industry concerns.

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The House Oversight and Accountability Committee, chaired by Rep. James Comer (R-KY), scheduled a hearing with FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on April 11.

Members of the panel will weigh in on “ongoing investigations” into FDA’s “response to several issues, including…hemp regulation,” it said in a notice on Thursday.

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“The Oversight Committee has highlighted several crises occurring on the FDA’s watch which have negatively impacted the lives and health of American people and families,” Comer said in the notice. “We will hold the Commissioner accountable for what the FDA is doing to address ongoing crises, how they are conducting inspections to prevent nationwide crises in the future, and how they intend to ensure the FDA is first and foremost protecting American consumers.”

Other issues set to be discussed include drug shortages, tobacco regulation, food safety and infant formula.

This comes nearly a year after a House subcommittee held a first-of-its kind hearing where members examined the impacts of FDA inaction on developing regulations to allow for the sale of hemp-derived CBD as food items or dietary supplements.

Comer, the full committee chairman, has sharply criticized FDA after the agency announced in January 2022 that it would not be developing CBD regulations because it said that there is not an available pathway to create such rules and it would require congressional action.

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Last year, the congressman said that his panel would be launching an investigation into the matter, and he requested that FDA turn over documents related to its decision not to regulated the cannabinoid. Even before the agency made that decision, the congressman expressed his intent to address the lack of rules.

In January, meanwhile, a coalition of hemp industry organizations called on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold a hearing addressing the ongoing lack of FDA regulations for products made with constituents of the crop such as CBD.

The hemp industry took a major plunge in 2022, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that was released last April—and stakeholders say the FDA’s refusal to issue regulations for CBD products is largely to blame.

Bipartisan congressional lawmakers refiled a separate pair of bills last March that are also meant to provide a pathway for the regulation of hemp derivatives like CBD as dietary supplements and food and beverage additives.

The House Energy and Commerce and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee responded to FDA’s inaction last summer by putting out a Request for Information (RIF) from experts on the best path forward for regulating hemp, with hundreds of respondents sharing their perspective and recommendations.

After FDA announced that it wouldn’t be taking steps to create hemp and CBD regulations, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), along with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), filed legislation last July that would remove regulatory barriers that FDA claims prevents it from allowing the hemp marketing.

Meanwhile, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) has separately called on Congress to increase the THC limit for legal hemp as one of their 2024 policy priorities.

The 0.3 percent THC limit for hemp that was imposed under the 2018 Farm Bill that federally legalized the crop has long been subject to criticism from stakeholders and lawmakers across the aisle. And one Justice Department researcher recently called into question the rationale for the restriction, suggesting it was arbitrarily decided based on a 1950s-era article that was adopted into federal statute.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently outlined how differing policy priorities among industry stakeholders could complicate the task of updating the next farm bill’s hemp provisions, but there are several areas of agreement within the top industry groups.

One of those shared interests is amending the law to raise the THC limit to one percent for compliant hemp—a proposal that was also addressed in a standalone bill from Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) in 2022.

It’s unclear if congressional lawmakers will ultimately tackle the Farm Bill this year. The 2018 version was set to expire at the end of last year, but it was extended under a bill President Joe Biden signed.

There have been a number of other hemp bills that were filed this session that lawmakers may also consider folding in to the broader agricultural legislation.

One bipartisan bill filed last March seeks to end what critics say is a “discriminatory” federal policy that bars people with prior felony drug convictions from owning or leading legal hemp businesses.

Another measure introduced with bipartisan sponsors last year would reduce regulations on farmers that grow industrial hemp for non-extraction purposes.

Separately, recent reporting could prompt additional reform proposals, as it’s come to light that USDA has been revoking certain hemp licenses for businesses that dually retain state licenses for marijuana.

For the time being, the hemp industry continues to face unique regulatory hurdles that stakeholders blame for the crop’s value plummeting in the short years since its legalization. Despite the economic conditions, however, a recent report found that the hemp market in 2022 was larger than all state marijuana markets, and it roughly equaled sales for craft beer nationally.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) started sending out thousands of surveys to hemp farmers across the country in January to better understand the state of the industry as part of its annual data collection initiative.


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