President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill—which legalizes industrial hemp after decades of the crop being caught up in broader cannabis prohibition—into law on Thursday.
The signing ceremony represents the culmination of a months-long debate over various provisions of the wide-ranging agriculture legislation. But after the House and Senate Agriculture Committees reconciled their respective versions, the final Farm Bill easily passed in full floor votes last week.
Hemp legalization, a provision of the bill championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), received bipartisan support, with members on both sides of the aisle celebrating its inclusion in the now signed law.
Moments after Trump added his signature to the legislation, the Food and Drug Administration released a statement saying it will take steps to identify “pathways for the lawful marketing” of hemp-derived cannabis products, but that for now it remains “unlawful…to introduce food containing added CBD or THC into interstate commerce.”
For now, here’s what the Farm Bill’s hemp provisions entail:
While the move has been widely characterized as outright legalization, it’s important to note that strict regulations still apply. Although hemp will no longer be in the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice, prospective growers will have to submit cultivation plans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), either through the state government or the USDA itself.
Cannabis plants must contain less than 0.3 percent THC in order to be classified as hemp.
One other positive development for farmers is that the bill stipulates that the hemp will be covered under the Federal Crop Insurance Act, meaning that in the event that a cultivator experiences crop loss, they will be entitled to insurance coverage in the same way that farmers for other legal agriculture products are.
OK, what about CBD?
Here’s what John Hudak of the Brookings Institute wrote about this aspect of the legislation. He said that a “big myth that exists about the Farm Bill is that cannabidiol (CBD)—a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis—is legalized.”
“It is true that section 12619 of the Farm Bill removes hemp-derived products from its Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, but the legislation does not legalize CBD generally. As I have noted elsewhere on this blog CBD generally remains a Schedule I substance under federal law… The Farm Bill ensures that any cannabinoid—a set of chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant—that is derived from hemp will be legal, if and only if that hemp is produced in a manner consistent with the Farm Bill, associated federal regulations, association state regulations, and by a licensed grower. All other cannabinoids, produced in any other setting, remain a Schedule I substance under federal law and are thus illegal. (The one exception is pharmaceutical-grade CBD products that have been approved by FDA, which currently includes one drug: GW Pharmaceutical’s Epidiolex.)”
Hemp is explicitly removed from the list of federally banned drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.
“The significance of this law change should not be underemphasized,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a press release. “This law marks the first change in the federal classification of the cannabis plant since it was initially classified as a schedule I controlled substance by Congress in 1970, and paves the way for the first federally-sanctioned commercial hemp grows since World War II.”
One area of the legislation that has been a source of concern for advocates is a provision that would prohibit people with felony drug convictions from participating in the legal hemp industry. That provision is still in the final version, but lawmakers reached a compromise and the ban will expire 10 years after the conviction.
Here’s the text of the final 2018 Farm Bill’s hemp provisions:
Farm Bill Hemp Provisions by on Scribd
As it happens, it seems Trump did not take McConnell up on his offer to use his hemp pen to sign the bill. But a signature is a still signature, and hemp legalization is now set to technically take effect on January 1, according to Vote Hemp. However, it will take additional time to submit regulatory plans to the USDA before farmers can legally cultivate the crop.
This story has been updated to add information about the FDA’s moves and to include comment from NORML.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.