Bipartisan congressional lawmakers have filed a new bill to reduce regulations on farmers that grow industrial hemp for non-extraction purposes.
Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) are sponsoring the Industrial Hemp Act, which is a House companion to a Senate version that was introduced in March by Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Mike Braun (R-IN).
Hemp and its derivatives like CBD that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight were legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill—and regulatory responsibility falls with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The new bill seeks to create a distinction between “industrial” hemp that’s grown for products like fiber and “hemp for any purpose” which would cover crops cultivated to extract cannabinoids like CBD.
Farmers who cultivate industrial hemp would no longer be subject to background checks in order to participate in the market, and they wouldn’t have to fulfill rigorous sampling and testing requirements.
Instead, they would simply have to go through an annual visual inspection, where they would need to demonstrate that they’re growing the crop for a purpose covered under the new “industrial hemp” definition. If they failed the initial visual review they would then need to provide documentation demonstrating “a clear intent and in-field practices consistent with the designation” of industrial hemp. Only if they refused to do so would regulators then be empowered to physically test harvested plant material.
The measure also preempts states and tribes from enacting requirements on industrial hemp growers that are more stringent than those laid out in the bill. It further provides that anyone who knowingly produces hemp crops that are inconsistent with their designation will be ineligible to participate in the legal hemp industry for a period of five years.
This bill’s introduction comes as discussions are heating up over the next iteration of the Farm Bill, in which lawmakers will likely try to include provisions to further ease burdens on the hemp market, which saw a significant decline in value last year, according to USDA.
Stakeholders have largely blamed FDA for the economic downturn, faulting the agency for choosing not to enact regulations that would allow for the marketing of hemp-derived cannabinoids in dietary supplements and the food supply. FDA said it needed further congressional action to develop such rules.
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Rep. James Comer (R-KY), chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf in March, announcing an investigation into the agency’s decision and criticizing the “insufficient rationale for inaction” on CBD regulations.
Advocates are pushing Congress to enact legislation to address the issue, including a bipartisan bill from Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Angie Craig (D-MN) that would provide a regulatory pathway for hemp derivatives like CBD.
Griffith and other bipartisan lawmakers sent a separate, related letter to the FDA commissioner last year. They expressed frustration over the “completely insufficient response” the agency provided in response to their bill calling for hemp-derived CBD to be permitted and regulated as a food additive.
Meanwhile, a group of House lawmakers introduced a bill in March that seeks to end what they say is a “discriminatory” federal policy that bars people with prior felony drug convictions from owning or leading legal hemp businesses.
All of this comes in the background of a major task for FDA: Conducting a scientific review into marijuana, at the direction of President Joe Biden, to aid in an assessment of its federal scheduling. FDA’s recommendation won’t be binding, but officials say they expect the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to produce a scheduling recommendation that’s consistent with their findings about its risks and benefits.
Read the text of the Industrial Hemp Act below:
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.