If you’ve been following news in the cannabis industry, you’ve heard a lot of buzz about the 2018 Farm Bill. In fact, even if you haven’t been following cannabis news, the Farm Bill was making major headlines in mainstream media. While it’s easy to write the increased attention off as the last major legislation passed into law by the preceding Congress before a switch in control of the House of Representatives, that is far from the case. This version could have a larger impact than any Farm Bill in the history of our country.
Why The Farm Bill Is A Big Deal
More formally known as the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, this $867-billion-dollar piece of legislation is meant to help guide the country’s agricultural course for years to come. While it will need to be reauthorized in four years–just as this bill reauthorized much of the 2014 version–the impact it has can last much longer. While often referred to as the Farm Bill, the truth is that it reaches beyond farms into processing, retail commerce, and even your daily life. Here are 10 things you should know about this gigantic legislation, especially in how it relates to cannabis and CBD.
- It’s not all about hemp. You could be forgiven for thinking it was if you’ve been watching cannabis news sources. There’s been a lot of buzz about it, and some hemp details will be covered here, but it encompassed much, much more. The Farm Bill helps set farm subsidies that are intended to keep American farmers in business while keeping prices down, Food Stamps and other welfare programs and the work requirements involved in receiving them, and regulatory structures for many of the products grown and processed in this country.
- Rather than a whole new bill, much of it involved reauthorizing the most recent Farm Bill. The history of agriculture tends to show a steady progression of regulation, input, and output–exactly what you want to see from a country that needs to feed millions of people. As such, much of the bill was maintaining previously charted courses by maintaining funding and regulations from the 2014 Farm Bill. Stability doesn’t make as many headlines as change, so most of the attention has been focused on other provisions.
- Industrial hemp is now recognized as a separate plant than marijuana. Much of the language in the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 was inserted into this sweeping agricultural legislation. One of the key provisions is the definition of industrial hemp as the Cannabis sativa L. plant that has a THC concentration of less than 0.3% THC. By creating an official demarcation between industrial hemp and marijuana, the door was open to further progress.
- Industrial hemp is not a scheduled substance. Because the Farm Bill recognized industrial hemp as a separate plant with a measurable distinction between it and its psychoactive sister, marijuana, it was removed from the controlled substances schedule. This allows more widespread study and investment in the potential represented by industrial cannabis as fiber, fuel source, treatment option, and supplement.
- Established USDA oversight of crops. It may seem like a no-brainer, but one question that had to be settled was which governmental entities would be in charge of the burgeoning legal hemp industry. While some of the regulatory requirements laid out in the Farm Bill are still being set up, this was an important step in making hemp and hemp-derived products safer for consumers.
- Established the FDA as the oversight body for products containing CBD or hemp oil. This puts CBD under the same body that currently oversees nutritional supplements and the foods you buy at the grocery store rather than the DEA, which some people feared. In essence, this reaffirms that industrial hemp is not a drug and should not be treated as such.
- The Farm Bill clarified that CBD oil and hemp oil are foods. While it isn’t a drug, prior to its legalization, there were limited drug trials on hemp. While this may not seem important, it affects how your CBD can be sold to you. Due to the drug trials, it is also officially not a nutritional supplement. Therefore, while not directly addressed in the bill, CBD is recognized as a food product. Under FDA guidelines, no health claims can be made by manufacturers or retailers that it has any specific health or wellness benefits. While users are free to share their own stories, individual research remains important for anyone who wants to learn the truth about what CBD can do for their lives.
- Expands the provisions from the 2014 Farm Bill related to pilot programs. The hemp progress in this bill began four years ago with industrial hemp pilot programs that allowed states to explore industrial hemp on a limited basis. That Farm Bill reviewed the history of industrial hemp and began the process of stopping the smear campaign that had halted progress for far too long. Many of the structures set forth for states in this pilot program were maintained without the need of states opting to use them as special provisions, which will ease the transition as we once again gain the benefits of industrial hemp coast to coast.
- Protects interstate commerce. While states can still set laws within their borders, the power to regulate interstate commerce constitutionally belongs to Congress. The Farm Bill wields this power by regulating and protecting the transport and sale of industrial hemp across borders. While it seems simple, it has already proven a bumpy road in Idaho and Oklahoma. Eventual clarification by Congress or the courts may be needed.
- Signals the shift toward wider acceptance. Congress is not known as a body for following popular trends, so the inclusion of hemp in the Farm Bill shows a shift towards greater long-term acceptance of legal cannabis. This is a welcome sight for those who want to see wider availability of industrial hemp and its benefits in our society.
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