Last month, amid the holiday bustle and shutdown threats, President Donald Trump quietly legalized hemp by signing the 2018 Farm Bill.
Yes. Included in the Agricultural Improvement Act—which outlines the Department of Agriculture's policies on national farming programs and is renewed every few years—was language distinguishing “hemp” from “marijuana.” Hemp was defined as cannabis that contains less than 0.3 percent THC in the 2014 Farm Bill. In the latest iteration it was removed permanently from the federal list of controlled substances, something activists have been trying to do for the better part of a century.
Forget about sandals and puka shell necklaces—hemp would be hailed as some crazy wonder product if it were invented in a lab today. They'd be throwing medals around and clapping people on the back so hard that their shoulders would fly out of their sockets. Emergency rooms would fill up with nerds in lab coats. Someone would claim an end to world hunger (hemp seeds are surprisingly nutritious) while others would say it heralds a new dawn in space travel (hemp fibers can supposedly be used to create a material that can conduct electricity, while almost every part of a rocket could theoretically be replaced with other hemp products, according to Cannabis Tech). Hemp can be used to produce lightweight construction materials and durable textiles and yadda yadda—you've probably heard all of this already.
And that's probably the only reason we aren't really seeing anyone dancing in the streets and waving flags. Hemp isn't new at all. It's been around for as long as we can remember, and the idea that it was illegal for all these years is just crazy. It will amount to a great embarrassment for generations to come and will probably be downplayed as much as possible. You watch.
Of course, the streets might be empty because “legal” isn't as simple as you'd figure.
After Trump put pen to paper, the Food and Drug Administration put out a statement saying that while hemp may be legal, the job of regulating consumable products derived from it lies squarely upon their broad and responsible shoulders. And until those regulations are in place, it remains illegal to sell CBD products derived from cannabis (and that includes hemp, you damn hippie).
According to the statement: “it’s unlawful under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to introduce food containing added CBD or THC into interstate commerce, or to market CBD or THC products as, or in, dietary supplements, regardless of whether the substances are hemp-derived.” The FDA said both substances underwent “substantial clinical investigations” before being used as active ingredients in FDA-approved drugs (presumably Epidiolex, Marinol and Syndros). It's illegal to implement any such active ingredient from a pharmaceutical into a food product or market it as a dietary supplement.
The statement also suggested a possible crackdown on those who sell CBD products claiming to have any health effects, saying the administration would take “enforcement action” against companies selling illegal cannabis products.
The FDA did say that hemp seed and hemp seed oil have been recognized as generally safe and will require no further evaluations, so there's that. It also promised to hold public forums in the future to hear from stakeholders on the safety of CBD products, since people are so damned interested.
But CBD products are still illegal despite the legalization of hemp. And even if the FDA wasn't threatening action, the ones out there on the shelves right now would still be illegal because they were derived from plants grown before Trump signed the bill, according to a Vice interview with senior fellow at Brookings Institute John Hudak. “There is a provision in the Farm Bill that CBD is de-scheduled and would thus be made legal if it were derived from hemp,” he said. “But that hemp would have to be grown legally, and no state has gotten a system up and running that is legal and compliant with the 2018 Farm Bill.” He said any product derived from plants grown as part of state pilot programs initiated under the 2014 Farm Bill could potentially be descheduled, “but in reality, most of what you see as a CBD product is still illegal under federal law.”
In the business, we refer to this sort of thing as a “major bummer.”
But that doesn't mean we should be kicking dust and saying, “Shucks.” This is big news for America's—and New Mexico's—farmers who have the green light to start pumping out a crop with high profit potentials. We only barely initiated our own hemp program last year, after repeated attempts to legalize the production or research of hemp were blocked by former Governor Susana Martinez. In 2017 the legislation finally made it through, but the state still dragged its heels and only began approving regulations at the end of last year—just in time for Trump to beat them to it. I'm sure there's a lesson in there, but I doubt anyone will notice.
In any case, the way for farming hemp in New Mexico has been cleared for the most part. The new laws require farmers to submit cultivation plans to either the US Department of Agriculture or a state agency. The state Agriculture Department announced in December that all hemp cultivation in New Mexico must be licensed by it. Applications for growing outdoor will start being accepted next month, according to a spokesperson. The fees for outdoor and indoor hemp growing will be $800 and $900 a year, respectively.