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Major Alcohol Industry Group Pushes Congress For ‘Critical Action’ To Regulate Consumable Hemp Products, Rather Than Ban Them



A major alcohol industry association is calling on congressional leaders to create a regulatory framework for hemp-based intoxicating cannabinoids—rather than impose an outright ban as is proposed under a large-scale agriculture bill that’s advancing in the House.

In a letter sent to House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders on Wednesday, Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) urged “critical action to ensure that intoxicating hemp products sold across the country are safe for consumers” as lawmakers work to advance the 2024 Farm Bill.

“We strongly advocate for clear federal rules and regulations that define intoxicating hemp compounds and to grant states the authority to regulate these products within their borders,” the alcohol trade association said.

The letter comes about a week after the House Agriculture Committee approved an amendment to the 2024 Farm Bill that would effectively ban most consumable hemp products—a proposal that saw some ideological splintering within the cannabis sector.

Ahead of that vote, WSWA said the “attempt to ban intoxicating hemp products is merely doubling down on the failed federal policy of prohibition.” But in this latest letter, the association used more tempered language. While it said a regulatory framework would be ideal, it also suggested Congress could enact legislation that also allows individual states to ban the products altogether.

“The absence of federal oversight has resulted in significant public health risks. The safety, purity, and potency of these products cannot be guaranteed, posing a serious threat to consumers,” it said. “The processes used to create some of these products can leave harmful chemicals behind. Additionally, these potentially dangerous products are often sold over the counter without age restrictions, making them easily accessible to minors, with some even mimicking popular candy and snack packaging.”

State-level bans on intoxicating cannabinoids have resulted in a series of lawsuits, WSWA noted. But short of federal regulations, it said it is proposing the following policy solutions, which could be incorporated into the final Farm Bill.

  • Grant agency authority to promulgate federal rules and regulations defining hemp compounds which would ban any synthetically derived compounds.
  • Empower states to regulate the sale, transport, and import of naturally occurring intoxicating hemp compounds within their borders.

The letter also advises that hemp cannabinoids products could be regulated under the Treasury Department, similar to alcohol.

“Just as the 21st Amendment empowered states to regulate the transport and import of alcoholic beverages, states should be granted similar authority over intoxicating hemp compounds,” it says. “This regulatory structure would help ensure that these products are safely manufactured, marketed, and sold. It would give states broad latitude to regulate or even ban these products in accordance with the wishes of their citizens.”

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Meanwhile, the legislation that advanced through the House Agriculture Committee last week also contains provisions that would reduce regulatory barriers for certain hemp farmers and scale-back a ban on industry participation by people with prior drug felony convictions.

Specifically, it would make it so the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), states and tribal entities could choose to eliminate a policy that prevents people with felony drug convictions in the past 10 years from being licensed to produce industrial hemp.

However, advocates had hoped to see more expansive language, such as what was described in Senate Democrats’ recent summary of their forthcoming Farm Bill draft. Under that plan, there would be a mandate to eliminate the ban, rather than simply authorizing it, and it would cover all hemp producers, not just those growing it for non-extraction purposes.

That said, the Senate Agriculture Committee has not yet released the draft text of their bill, so it remains to be seen if the summary description matches what will ultimately be released. Bipartisan House lawmakers filed standalone legislation last year that would broadly lift the felony ban for would-be hemp producers.

Lawmakers and stakeholders have also been eyeing a number of other proposals that could be incorporated into the Farm Bill—and which could come up as proposed amendments as the proposal moves through the legislative process—including measures to free up hemp businesses to legally market products like CBD as dietary supplements or in the food supply.

Meanwhile, the hemp market started to rebound in 2023 after suffering significant losses the prior year, the latest annual industry report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that was released in April found.

The data is the result of a survey that USDA mailed to thousands of hemp farmers across the U.S. in January. The first version of the department’s hemp report was released in early 2022, setting a “benchmark” to compare to as the industry matures.

Bipartisan lawmakers and industry stakeholders have sharply criticized FDA for declining to enact regulations for hemp-derived CBD, which they say is largely responsible for the economic stagnation.

To that end, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf testified before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee in April, where he faced questions about the agency’s position that it needed additional congressional authorization to regulate the non-intoxicating cannabinoid.

USDA is also reportedly revoking hemp licenses for farmers who are simultaneously growing marijuana under state-approved programs, underscoring yet another policy conflict stemming from the ongoing federal prohibition of some forms of the cannabis plant.

For the time being, the hemp industry continues to face unique regulatory hurdles that stakeholders blame for the crop’s value plummeting in the short years since its legalization. Despite the economic conditions, however, a recent report found that the hemp market in 2022 was larger than all state marijuana markets, and it roughly equaled sales for craft beer nationally.

Meanwhile, internally at USDA, food safety workers are being encouraged to exercise caution and avoid cannabis products, including federally legal CBD, as the agency observes an “uptick” in positive THC tests amid “confusion” as more states enact legalization.

Read the WSWA letter to congressional leaders on the proposed hemp cannabinoid ban below: 

House Passes Veterans-Focused Marijuana And Psychedelics Amendments

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