As the average age of farmers in the U.S. continues to increase, hemp legalization is exciting a younger generation about working in agriculture, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) says.
That’s the “real driver” behind his cannabis advocacy, the senator said, adding that he “knew that this would be a huge bonanza for Oregon agriculture” when the crop was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill. But he said further reforms are still needed to support the industry, and he’s recently introduced legislation to achieve that.
“We’ve seen a lot of young farmers get very interested in hemp,” Wyden said during an interview with U.S. Hemp Roundtable General Counsel Jonathan Miller.
“At a time when the age of farmers in America keeps going up and up, to have all these young farmers interested and coming back to the farm because they see so much potential here” shows that “we’re on the right side of history,” he said.
But while the domestic hemp market has rapidly expanded since prohibition was lifted, regulatory policies continue to hold back cannabis businesses, Wyden, who is also working with the Senate majority leader on a bill to federally legalize marijuana, said.
Specifically, the lack of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules to allow hemp-derived CBD to be marketed as food or dietary supplements is at issue. And to that end, the senator introduced a bipartisan bill last week that would resolve the problem by exempting the crop and its compounds from federal restrictions that have blocked the emergence of legal consumable hemp products.
“CBD is in a kind of regulatory Never Never Land—a kind of regulatory gray zone,” the senator said. “The consumer wants to know that everything they purchase is top quality, meets basic standards, is labeled appropriately, but the FDA has basically gone out and tied its own hands in order to regulate.”
“Since the current FDA has been so slow, I’ve said we might as well call this bill, the Enough Is Enough Act,” he said.
In reality, the bill is titled the Hemp Access and Consumer Safety Act, and it’s cosponsored by Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
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Another sign of the bipartisan nature of the CBD food and drinks bill is that, according to Wyden, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is “really looking at it” and is “trying to get to yes.”
While McConnell is an advocate for the hemp industry, the separate marijuana legalization bill that Wyden is working on is unlikely to garner his support. Even so, the senator is pressing on and recently said that not only should cannabis be legal but the market should be normalized in global commerce with U.S. trade representatives advocating for the interests of domestic marijuana firms.
Wyden also said voters should still pressure their representatives to get on board with the more modest hemp reform because “political change rarely starts in a bunch of government buildings and then trickles down.”
“For those of us who see the incredible opportunity here for consumers and people who have seen how these products make such a difference in their health and in their life—this makes sure that their products are safe and provides an added measure of security and certainty for the farmers that those opportunities are going to be there,” he said.
A bipartisan group of House members introduced similar legislation earlier this year to allow CBD to be marketed as a dietary supplement.
Earlier this year, FDA withdrew draft guidance on CBD enforcement that it had submitted for review to the White House under the Trump administration. There are few details about what the proposal included, but it was expected to give the industry a better understanding of the federal perspective when it comes to marketing cannabis products.
The decision to withdraw it came shortly after President Joe Biden was inaugurated and his chief of staff sent out a government-wide memo calling on federal agencies to pull pending rules.
The agency was mandated under appropriations legislation enacted in 2019 to provide an update on its regulatory approach to CBD, and it did so in March of last year. The update stated that “FDA is currently evaluating issuance of a risk-based enforcement policy that would provide greater transparency and clarity regarding factors FDA intends to take into account in prioritizing enforcement decisions.”
Also last year, FDA released separate draft guidelines that are meant to streamline approvals for generic oral CBD medications.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final rule for the nation’s industrial hemp program took effect in March.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.