The Federal Farm Bill could make hemp farming legal – but in the meantime, Big Pharma and the FDA have quietly moved in on CBD 

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click to enlarge INDUSTRIAL HEMP FARMING
  • Industrial hemp farming

The DEA could also choose to create a new drug code exclusively for Epidiolex under Schedule II-V, DEA spokesperson Barbara Carreno explains, leaving all other forms of CBD just as federally illegal as they are now. That's how the DEA chose to deal with Marinol, an FDA-approved drug containing synthetic THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, and it could do the same with any other cannabis-based drugs the FDA approves in the future.

Carreno says, "There is precedent for regulating various compounds derived from the same plant differently," noting the various opioids derived from poppies range from heroin in Schedule I to oxycodone and morphine in Schedule II to codeine cough syrups in Schedule V.

The only thing that's certain is that Epidiolex will not go in Schedule I, because the FDA has confirmed that it has medical uses. Controlled substances in Schedule II through V are classified according to their risk of abuse and overdose, with Schedule II having the highest risk and V having the least.

But Colorado hemp farmer and activist Veronica Carpio believes the FDA approval of Epidiolex could give the federal government the strongest legal grounds yet to justify a crackdown on CBD (and cannabis in general) while simultaneously laying the groundwork for Big Pharma to take over the medical marijuana industry nationwide.

According to Justia.com, which makes legal records available to the public, U.K. pharmaceutical company GW also holds roughly 100 patents related to the medical efficacy of cannabis, covering cannabinoid extraction processes, cannabinoid placebos, dispensing mechanisms for cannabinoid drugs, and a range of cannabinoid-based drug formulas used to treat almost everything under the sun, including schizophrenia, mood disorders, epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, psychosis, bone disorders, inflammatory bowel diseases (e.g., Crohn's disease), tumors, bulimia, obesity and several types of cancer. Each patent potentially provides another legal avenue for GW to shut down its competitors already operating legally.

Industry website the Cannabist reports, "Forecasts have put Epidiolex's peak annual sales between $1 billion and $3 billion." Epidiolex is expected to cost between $2,500 and $5,000 per month, according to analysts consulted by the New York Times, yet Colorado medicinal hemp farmer Jan VanDenBerg says her products could deliver the same dosage of CBD for roughly a tenth of those prices. Unlike other CBD and MMJ products, however, Epidiolex may be covered by private health insurance – but the ever-rising costs of insurance may only create another barrier to access.

Fortunately for Colorado's CBD businesses, the Colorado Hemp Foods Bill was signed into law earlier this year, and it takes the exact opposite position of the FDA, asserting explicitly that CBD is a dietary ingredient and products containing it should be regulated as food products.

Carpio, who helped draft and advocate for the bill, says it could be a turnkey solution for all the other states (like Florida, if we ever get there) to protect their CBD markets from the feds.

Defense attorney and first chair of the Colorado Bar Association's Cannabis Law Committee Lenny Frieling says the law may protect Colorado from an FDA or DEA crackdown on CBD on the basis of states' rights, but it could take a lawsuit, or several, to finally sort it out.

The difference between regulating CBD as a drug or a food is a massive one for farmers. Folium Biosciences spokesperson Juanita Ramos helped advocate for the Hemp Foods Bill and agrees with Carpio that CBD should be regulated as a food product, but Folium's leadership is prepared for any eventuality.

"All we can do is keep our heads down and keep doing what we do," she says. "We're concentrating on those kids and people who need [CBD]."

All the farmers we interviewed agree that, rather than being put in a new drug schedule, CBD should be removed from the list of Controlled Substances entirely because it carries little to no risk of abuse or overdose.

"Descheduling will really open it up to anyone who wants to participate, and they wouldn't have burdensome requirements that they have to follow because it will be treated as a regular agricultural crop," Luke Johnson, CEO of Cloud CO Farms in Alamosa, Colorado, says. "That would finally allow farmers and producers to operate in a more fair and competitive landscape to all the international people that we compete with currently."

Johnson hopes the upcoming farm bill will accomplish just that. The Senate version of the bill contains an amendment to federally legalize hemp proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

"I have heard from many Kentucky farmers who agree it's time to remove the federal hurdles and give our state the opportunity to seize its full potential and once again become the national leader for hemp production. That is why I strongly advocated for this measure to be included in the Farm Bill," McConnell said in a statement after the farm bill passed the Senate.

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