June 18, 2018 -- Legislation that includes a measure to legalize hemp, rich in the compound used to produce numerous CBD oil products, made significant progress last week. The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee overwhelmingly endorsed the Farm Bill, known also as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, by a vote of 20 to 1 on June 13.
Although it’s a type of cannabis plant like marijuana, hemp does not produce the ''high" of THC. It’s often used in industrial products and also contains cannabidiol, or CBD; much more, in fact, than cannabis or marijuana. CBD is used in products that claim to relieve pain, ease stress, help you sleep, improve skin, and pump up mascara's lash-thickening power. It is expected to become a $1 billion-a-year market by 2020.
Although CBD is legal in numerous states, the federal government considers it a Schedule I drug and therefore illegal to have. The Farm Bill proposes, among its many provisions, legalizing the CBD that comes from industrial hemp. Currently, growing industrial hemp is legal on a federal level only for research or under a state pilot program in states that have legalized it.
Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, an industry group, says the Farm Bill includes the Hemp Farming Act, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and endorsed by 25 other senators, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
“It would permanently remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, making it an agricultural commodity” rather than a Schedule 1 substance, Miller says. The bill defines hemp as all parts of the plant containing less than 0.3% THC, including extracts, derivatives and cannabinoids (such as CBD) from the cannabis plant.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the only dissenting vote from the Senate committee, had filed an amendment that would have said extracts, derivatives, and cannabinoids would still be considered Schedule I controlled substances, just like heroin.
But after a public outcry, Grassley’s amendment was never voted on, Miller says.
McConnell, the Senate leader, says the farm bill should be voted on by the end of the month. It must then go to the House for consideration. The current farm bill expires at the end of September.
“The House might not pass it, and it might not include hemp in their bill,” Miller says. “[But] if it passes with the current language, then hemp-derived CBD would be legal from a federal perspective” if President Donald Trump signed it into law.
Trump has not made his views on hemp public, but last week he told reporters he supported ending the federal ban on marijuana. Such a move would remove the drug from its Schedule I purgatory.
Trump’s position runs counter to that of his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, an ardent opponent of marijuana legalization.
But Hemp “would be an agricultural commodity,” Miller says, if the bill becomes law. “However, that doesn't mean the FDA won't assert jurisdiction over how it is marketed. And certain states could prohibit sales of CBD or growing hemp.”
Hemp could be used in dozens of other products, including car paneling, concrete, and horse bedding, Miller says, to name just a few.
“Nearly everything that is plastic could be made with hemp, but in a biodegradable, renewable way,” Miller says. “This is a great cash crop for farmers. We have a lot of tobacco farmers moving to hemp. They used to grow a crop that kills people. Now they are growing a crop that helps people.”