Farm Bill passes, opens doors for hemp and CBD

Congress agreed to the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill earlier this week, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation as early as today. While the bill provides important agricultural and nutritional policy extensions or five years—many of which were in limbo or about to expire—the most prominent, if not surprising, change involves the cannabis plant.

Historically, cannabis has not been a part of the conversation around nutrition, farm subsidies, and crop insurance, but this year Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed to bring hemp in to the discussion.

Hemp Is defined in the legislation as the cannabis plant, but it cannot contain more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Federal law previous did not differentiate hemp from other cannabis plants, all of which were made illegal in 1937 under the Marihuana Tax Act. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act banned cannabis of any kind.

With the new bill, hemp policy has changed significantly. Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows pilot programs to study hemp and small-scale cultivation for limited purposes. The 2018 Farm Bill allows hemp cultivation on a broader scale and puts not restrictions on the sale, transport, or possession of hemp-derived products, as long as those items are produced in a manner consistent with the law.  

The new system is not without restrictions, beyond the 0.3 percent THC potency limit. Any cannabis plant that contains more than 0.3 percent THC is considered non-hemp cannabis, or marijuana, and has no legal protection under the new bill.

State and federal governments will share regulatory powers over hemp cultivation. States looking to license and regulate hemp must submit a plan for approval by the Secretary of the USDA. If a state opts out of creating its own plan, the USDA will construct a regulatory program where hemp cultivators in those states can apply for licenses.

In short, the Farm Bill legalizes hemp, but it will be a highly regulated crop for both personal and industrial production. But it does open one opportunity that might be of particular interest to integrative practitioners—cannabidiol (CBD). Under the new law, CBD will be legal as long as it is produced in a manner consistent with the Farm Bill, federal regulations, state regulations, and by a licensed grower. All other cannabinoids produced in any other setting remain a Schedule I substance and are illegal under federal law. The one exception is pharmaceutical-grade CBD products that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, such as GW Pharmaceutical’s Epidiolex.