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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  • An industrial hemp field

Technically, McConnell's amendment removes "hemp" from the definition of "marihuana" in the Controlled Substances Act, and defines hemp as "the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis."

The Hemp Roundtable's Miller and Colleen Lanier, a spokesperson for the Hemp Industries Association, another trade group, believe that language should be sufficient to protect all hemp-derived CBD products from federal interference.

Carpio disagrees, however, pointing out a paragraph of the amendment added in committee: "(b) EFFECT ON OTHER LAW. Nothing in this subtitle shall affect or modify (1) the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.); or (2) the authority of the Commissioner of Food and Drugs and the Secretary of Health and Human Services under that Act."

Combined with the approval of Epidiolex, Carpio says that paragraph turns the bill from a victory gift for the CBD industry into a Trojan Horse. Defense attorney and first chair of the Colorado Bar Association's Cannabis Law Committee Frieling agrees with Carpio's interpretation of that paragraph, but says it's impossible to know exactly how the FDA will go about enforcing the FD&C Act in regard to CBD.

Miller, an attorney, believes the FDA's enforcement efforts regarding CBD will only be focused on companies making unproven medical claims about their products, which he fully supports, rather than a full-blown crackdown.

"I just don't see the FDA getting into that battleground," Miller says. He believes there should be two paths available for consumers to access CBD – as a pharmaceutical drug or as an over-the-counter food product or supplement – and if the FDA tries to block the latter path, he and the Roundtable will be prepared to sue.

But Carpio says the FDA wouldn't have to crack down on, nor would GW have to sue, every company making CBD products – going after a few big companies, like Stanley Brothers, could be enough to scare off smaller ones that can't afford to get tied up in litigation.

"This is going to change people's lives for the better everywhere," Dani Billings, a hemp farmer and co-founder of the Colorado Hemp Project, says.

Billings believes, if federally legalized, hemp could be the crop that brings success and stability back to family farms across the country, especially because of its versatility. Hemp can be used to produce everything from biodegradable plastics and building materials to textiles and rope to food, medicine and biofuels.

"This plant is here to do good – to be a positive conscious force," Billings says. "Everybody has health issues. Everybody needs houses. Everybody needs clothes, and everybody needs food. And this plant can take care of all of that. Once this plant has an opportunity to touch people's lives, Lord does it make a change."

Billings was one of the first Colorado farmers to begin growing hemp after the 2014 farm bill authorized states to create industrial hemp programs for research. Today, over 40 states, including Florida, have passed legislation creating such programs – 19 are now actually producing hemp, according to Lanier at the Hemp Industries Association.

Hemp became legal to grow in Florida in July 2017. According to Robert Gilbert, professor and chairman of the agronomy department at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the plant has not been legally grown in the state since before World War II. The Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services passed its permitting process on April 12 of this year, and UF-IFAS researchers are now set to launch a pilot program to help the state develop the industry.

Despite hemp's relative success, because of its Schedule I status, those in the industry still face unique challenges and restrictions. Billings and Johnson say they have been denied banking services and credit card processing, had multiple bank accounts shut down on them, and they pay extra for the accounts they do have because they are considered high-risk. Plus, nothing they grow, produce or sell can cross state lines or they risk having it seized by the DEA. All this for a plant that doesn't get you high.

Perhaps the most important benefit hemp farmers will receive if the Senate's farm bill becomes law is access to federal crop insurance. Billings says hail storms have already destroyed one of her family's greenhouses and several acres of their hemp crops this year, and without crop insurance all of that is simply time wasted and money lost. That heightened economic risk alone deters farmers from growing hemp and inhibits the industry's growth substantially.

The Hemp Industries Association's Lanier says that the industrial hemp sector will expand dramatically if McConnell's amendment becomes law, which could be a massive boon for the economy.

As the House and Senate hash out the final version of the farm bill and the DEA awaits the FDA's report, the entire cannabis industry, from farmers and retailers to patients and consumers, braces for impact, hopeful the politicians and bureaucrats will act in their favor.

"My prayer is that our leaders will understand that not only is this good for the economy and job creation," says Ramos, "it's also good for humanity."

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