As I write this, I'm sipping apple cider and waiting to see if the final 2018 Farm Bill passes. It includes wording that will distinguish between marijuana and industrial hemp, removing the latter from the list of controlled substances.
The 2014 Farm Bill defined “hemp” as cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC. It made farming and studying hemp through university agricultural programs legal. The new bill will remove it from the list of scheduled substances permanently.
The Farm Bill gets renewed every five years or so and determines the US Department of Agriculture's policies on farming and nutritional programs. This year's version is expected to be signed any time now, and those who care have been waiting on pins and needles. Sen. Mitch McConnell got everyone worked up when he said language was being included in the bill that would remove hemp from the list of federally controlled substances. Last week he told reporters that House and Senate agriculture committee leaders from both parties had reached an agreement and were almost ready to sign it.
Hemp hasn't been legal in America since the early 20th century, and opening the doors now will completely change the face of farming in the US. It will also green light the budding CBD industry which has been plagued by a strange legal nebulousness (more on that later).
Meanwhile, true to form, New Mexico has once again proven that it will always show up late to the party.
See: Last month the New Mexico State University regents finally approved regulations for hemp cultivation across the state. Last year, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a couple of bills that would have legalized regulated industrial hemp cultivation for research purposes. But the state Supreme Court ruled against the vetoes in August 2017, saying Martinez had violated state law and failed to give adequate reasoning.
Yet even with the law in place, it took over a year for the Department of Agriculture to finally begin taking public comment on hemp cultivation regulations. That was back in October, and they've only now approved the damn things.
Under the new rules, an individual or organization will apply annually for a grower's license from the agriculture department. Department of Agriculture inspection parameters were also set. All licensing fees and testing are to be paid for by the growers. The proposal was approved unanimously by the three NMSU regents present during the Nov. 29 meeting. The Board of Regents oversees the Agricultural Department under state constitution.
NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu said the university plans to work with private investors on production and marketing strategies, with an eye on studying how to reduce investment risks inherent to the crop. And NMSU President John Floros told the Albuquerque Journal that the university is “perfectly positioned to help in this industry” by throwing researchers from various fields at hemp research.
The new regulations go into effect Dec. 11.
(But what's irritating to your humble asshole reporter is that the federal pathways for states to develop industrial hemp research programs have been open since the 2014 Farm Bill was signed, and 42 states decided to take them up on the offer. While others already have functioning hemp pilot programs up and running, we're only just getting our feet moving—now, on the eve of federal legalization. I'd applaud sarcastically but I'm just too tired.)
Now the Farm Bill will turn hemp into a major money-making crop for the US, and we're bound to see some industries change how they do business once the product is more readily available. How it will affect the paper, plastics and textile industries is pretty obvious. Hemp is a much lighter, cheaper and more durable material than those currently being used in these corners, and it will likely bring production costs down and introduce new strategies in most of them, too.
But another exciting thing to see will be the effect it has on the burgeoning CBD market. CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid and has been touted as a new miracle drug. The only problem is it comes from cannabis and hemp, which are considered the same thing legally. Yes, every one of those CBD shops you went holiday shopping in last week are selling a drug that is illegal federally. But according to a report by the Brightfield Group—despite the legal weirdness—the CBD industry is running strong and is projected to grow 40 times its current size by 2022.
Once the Farm Bill legalizes hemp, though, those projections are almost certainly going to rise. Since CBD is a compound that has to be isolated from the plant, the THC percentage of the plant doesn't matter, meaning hemp is a perfectly viable source. Most of the CBD on the market is hemp-derived anyway, since a lot of these companies are totally confused about the laws and think the ban only applies to “cannabis”-derived CBD (it doesn't).
But it will after this bill is signed. With the removal of hemp from the list of Schedule I controlled substances, CBD will finally be completely legal to sell (although it will still lack FDA approval). Just think: If the CBD industry is flourishing under a federal ban—with investors having to fear that their money will disappear and the DEA will kick in their door—how much better will it do in the free market? Happy holidays, indeed.