12 Oct 2018

How Hemp Became Illegal and Its Long Road Back

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Future of CBD and Hemp Oil Hangs in the Balance

The future of hemp-based products in the United States, ranging from hemp extracts and CBD oil to butter and plastics, will remain unclear until U.S. legislators pass the 2018 Farm Bill. Until then, the wide array of available hemp oil products will remain entangled in a confusing admixture of conflicting state laws, and coercive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) maneuverings.

As of October 2018, hemp remains a Schedule I federally controlled substance. Despite the lack of psychoactive THC, industrial hemp is viewed as no different than heroin or LSD in the eyes of the federal government. This legal anachronism dates back to the 1970 controlled substances act that categorized the entire cannabis sativa plant as illegal. The controlled substances act was merely the final nail in the coffin of legality, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1938 had already ended the legal production of industrial hemp in the United States, ending a tradition that dated back at least 335 years.[i]

2014 was a crucial year for hemp cultivation but turned out to be a false dawn. A House version of the farm bill was the first sign that the federal death grip on marijuana cultivation was loosening. It permitted research institutions such as universities to grow industrial hemp, free of the psychoactive ingredient delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), if such growing was allowed in the state where the institution was located. In total, over 25,000 acres in 19 states have been dedicated to hemp cultivation.

Industrial Hemp Shows Enormous Growth Potential

This may appear to be an impressive total but hardly reflective of the potential demand for hemp-based products.  Grand View Research estimates that the market for hemp grown in the US could reach 10.6 billion by 2025. Moreover, the pilot program allows research institutions to grow hemp in select states but it does not address the DEA’s intrusive level of oversight.

The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 (Senate Bill 134) was designed to provide a permanent solution to the vexing issue of hemp legalization.[ii]  It would have removed industrial hemp from the controlled substances list. Industrial hemp was defined by its insignificant quantities of THC. This bill eventually died in committee and four years later the situation surrounding hemp production remains murky.

Still Waiting For 2018 Farm Bill

None of the legislative maneuverings, or lack thereof, has lessened the public’s appetite for hemp oil and CBD supplements. The unfavorable legal standing of hemp has limited the ability of sellers to market their products but it’s clear that systemic marijuana prohibition is on the ropes. The knockout punch may come in the form of the 2018 Omnibus Farm Bill.

The previous Farm Bill expired on September 30, 2018 but the replacement bill is not yet in place. It is not unusual for a piece of legislation as far reaching and complicated as the Farm Bill to become ensnared in partisan differences, but it is widely believed that restrictions on industrial hemp will be lifted upon passage. Mike Conaway, Chairman of House Committee on Agriculture, remains confident the bill will be completed by the end of the calendar year.[iii]

Pharmaceutical CBD Epidiolex Approved For Sale

Until the Farm Bill takes effect, organic certification is available for compliant hemp sources but manufacturers remain severely stymied by contradictory rules and regulations. Not surprisingly, pharmaceutical companies with their greater legal resources are better able to navigate the byzantine laws.  GW Pharmaceuticals now markets Epidiolex, a CBD pharmaceutical isolate.[iv]

The irony is that raw, full-spectrum hemp oil products are much closer to the natural product and still face production and marketing barriers. This makes no sense, considering the drug like product is far removed from its natural hemp roots.


[i] https://purduehemp.org/hemp-legal-status/

[ii] https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/s134/summary

[iii] https://agriculture.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=4453

[iv] https://www.gwpharm.com/about-us/news/gw-pharmaceuticals-plc-and-its-us-subsidiary-greenwich-biosciences-announce-dea-has



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