(This story appears in the August issue of MJBizMagazine.)
The U.S. Farm Bill that legalized commercial hemp production in 2018 is set to expire at the end of September.
As members of Congress craft replacement legislation, they will assess the needs of domestic agriculture – including hemp farmers and producers.
The U.S. Hemp Roundtable and 30 other cannabis organizations submitted a list of nine priorities for the House and Senate committees involved in creating the Farm Bill to consider as they solidify new legislation.
Those priorities include:
- Bolstering the U.S. Department of Agriculture hemp program through funding and dedicated staff.
- Requiring the Food and Drug Administration to regulate hemp extracts such as CBD.
- Designating hemp as a specialty crop.
- Repealing a ban that keeps felons from participating in hemp production.
- Promoting hemp research at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions.
- Removing Drug Enforcement Administration registration for hemp-testing labs.
- Easing burdensome regulations.
- Permitting hemp grain for animal feed.
- Addressing THC levels for hemp.
Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, spoke with MJBizMagazine about these priorities as well as potential challenges for low-THC cannabis farmers and processors as lawmakers prepare to hammer out a new Farm Bill.
What have you heard about changes to hemp in the 2023 U.S. Farm Bill?
The biggest issue that we’re confronting as an industry is the lack of regulation by the FDA when it comes to CBD and other cannabinoids.
I know there’s going to be an effort to amend the Farm Bill with language that would require that the FDA regulate CBD.
There’s a jurisdictional issue at the front, so the (U.S. House of Representatives) version of the Farm Bill that comes out will not have anything about the FDA.
The House Agriculture Committee does not have jurisdiction over the FDA.
But when it gets to the Senate, or when it gets to the floor, or when it gets into conference committee, we are expecting to see some language there.
And that’s the biggest thing that the industry is hoping for.
As far as CBD goes, it doesn’t have to be the Farm Bill.
The folks in the House Energy and Commerce Committee would like to see a separate bill. They’d like to maintain jurisdiction over it.
But I do think there is consensus that we’d like to see something done this year.
What about Farm Bill changes regarding hemp-based intoxicating cannabinoids?
There’s a lot of discussion about that. I think there’s going to be efforts to try to ban them. We’re going to be fighting that.
We’re worried that we’re going to see a new prohibition, which doesn’t work.
I also think there will be efforts to try to ensure that they’re legal, as long as they are strictly regulated and kept out of the hands of children.
So, I think that’s going to be a big battle line. I don’t know if it’s going to be resolved during the Farm Bill, but it’s certainly going to be brought up.
My biggest worry is that we don’t see enough hemp in the Farm Bill. We really need to deal with the CBD issue and our agenda.
We’re not going to get everything we want, but I’d love to be able to get to some clear victories for hemp.
We’re hoping to reduce regulations on (hemp farmers and processors).
That’s the biggest challenge, as well as the protections in terms of processing – so the processors don’t have to worry about being accused of engaging in controlled substances.
How likely is a new Farm Bill to pass this year?
A lot of discussion is about two battles going on, particularly when it comes to the (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) that used to be called food stamps.
It’s less a battle between Democrats and Republicans and more a battle within the Republican Party.
Folks in the Freedom Caucus and the right wing of the party are still upset about the debt-ceiling deal and might use this as a way to try to get more.
So, it’s a real challenge for House Republican leadership to be able to deliver something that will meet the needs of both the far-right wing as well as Democrats.
Who are the Congressional change-makers for hemp?
As always, (Senate Minority Leader) Mitch McConnell is one of – if not the leading – player when it comes to hemp, so we will be watching closely with what he does.
Jamie Comer, who is the House Oversight Committee chair, has announced that he’s going to have hearings on hemp and CBD.
The other real players are going be the leaders of those committees: the chair of House Energy and Commerce Committee, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, will have a lot of say. And Glenn “GT” Thompson, the chair of House Agriculture Committee, will.
And then on the Senate side, you’ve got Debbie Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture (Nutrition and Forestry), and Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate Health, (Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee, so they will have a lot of inputs.
Of course, (U.S. Senate Majority Leader) Chuck Schumer undoubtedly will play a major role as well.
What should marijuana execs know about the Farm Bill?
A lot of marijuana industry folks are closely watching the Farm Bill to see what Congress does with CBD and nonintoxicating cannabinoids because it could prove a model for what (Congress) will do when marijuana is finally legalized.
A lot of marijuana folks are going to want to watch this model and see how it develops.
(This interview was edited for length and clarity.)
Kate Lavin can be reached at email@example.com.