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Are changes coming to the hemp industry?

Farm bill amendment may restrict CBD sales

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

May 30, 2024

4 Min Read
Legal Weed sign
Getty Images/Nathan Griffith

Getting a legal buzz may soon be more difficult thanks to ag lawmakers. During a May 23 farm bill markup session, Rep. Mary Miller, R- Ill., introduced a last-minute amendment to revise hemp regulations. Miller says the change will prevent retailers from selling dangerous products that look like candy to teenagers.

“We must stop teenagers and children from being exposed to addictive and harmful drugs,” she says.

How we got here

Six years ago, lawmakers permitted the sale and manufacturing of hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill. The legislation effectively overturned longstanding federal law banning nearly all cannabis plant products. That law was intended to prohibit marijuana use. However, it also outlawed non-intoxicating products made with hemp from the cannabis plant.

The 2018 Farm Bill changed that, directing USDA to draft new regulations for hemp production. Federal law now permits hemp sales if a product’s tetrahydrocannabinol level makes up less than 0.3% of its total dry weight.

Tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC, is the primary psychoactive component in marijuana. Since THC is naturally present in the cannabis plant, regulators had to establish a THC threshold to differentiate legal hemp from federally prohibited marijuana. At the time, they believed the 0.3% permissible level was too low for recreational drug use. Little did they know what would happen next.

Related:House Ag Committee approves farm bill proposal

Changing attitudes and unintended consequences

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 57% of Americans now believe recreational marijuana should be legal. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is expected to soon re-classify it as a less dangerous drug.

Since 2012, twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. Another 13 now allow it for medicinal purposes.

Some states like Texas (home to me and Willie Nelson), only allow medicinal marijuana for a few specific needs. Other states like Oklahoma give doctors much more leeway in how they can “prescribe” it.

My grandpa used to love Merle Haggard crooning about not smoking marijuana in Muskogee. Today, they’d both be surprised to learn there are at least 30 marijuana dispensaries in town. That’s around 1 for every 1,200 Okies from Muskogee.

Despite this, plenty of lawmakers are still more Merle than Willie. Those funny gummies from Chicago and LA are still felonies in Texas. But you wouldn’t know it looking at an average Dallas strip mall. Many stores sport neon green marquees similar to ones at Denver dispensaries. The key difference in Texas shops is that they are selling legal CBD, another biproduct of the cannabis plant. Some clinical research has shown it can help people with a variety of minor ailments.

CBD does not naturally produce the intoxicating effects of marijuana. However, manufacturers have developed techniques allowing them to infuse additional amounts of THC and other cannabinoids while still adhering to the federal weight requirement. This has led to a slew of THC-packed products being sold in places where marijuana is illegal.

Now Snoop Dogg probably wouldn’t be impressed by those products. But for many people, it’s a simple, legal way to get something close to a marijuana feel. And therein lies the problem according to many lawmakers.

Some like Rep. Miller and amendment cosponsor Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R- Calif., believe tougher regulations on products is the only answer. Their proposal would ban all ingestible hemp products with any level of THC. It would also ban all products with cannabinoids “synthesized or manufactured outside of the plant.”

Other Republicans like Reps. Jim Baird, R- Ind., Derrick Van Orden, R- Wisc., and Zach Nunn, R- Iowa say additional regulations would hurt farmers who have made significant investments in the hemp industry.

According to a recent USDA report, the U.S. industrial hemp industry value increased 18% between 2022 and 2023.

“As a producer, it sort of bums me out that people have taken advantage of loophole that they’ve been able to find, loopholes in chemistry and naming stuff,” Nevada farmer Joe Frey says. “Ultimately, I think some of this stuff can damage a great industry."

Frey heads an organization called Western States Hemp that supports efforts to grow the Hemp industry. He believes there should be a better way to deal with the “bad actors” that are giving legitimate hemp farmers a bad name. Frey emphasizes he wholeheartedly agrees with the need to keep THC products away from kids. He just doesn’t think farm bill restrictions are the answer.

“It’s going to have a lot of unintended consequences,” Frey says. “I feel like it (hemp regulations) should be left up to the local jurisdictions.”

Time will tell if Frey gets his wish. With plenty of issues still left to be decided, the farm bill that passes may look much different from the one on the table now.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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