Hemp industry expected to blossom under new Farm Bill

A volunteer walks through a hemp field at a farm in Springfield, Colorado on Oct. 5, 2013.P. Solomon Banda / AP file

By Dennis Romero

The U.S. hemp industry is expecting business to expand and investors to beckon after Congress on Wednesday passed farm legislation that included a provision to legalize and regulate the plant under the Department of Agriculture. “This is a monumental bill for hemp farming,” said Lauren Stansbury of the Hemp Industries Association.

The bill, awaiting President Trump’s signature, opens the door to state-by-state regulation, removes hemp, which is part of the cannabis plant family, from the federal enforcement of outlaw drugs and gives hemp farmers access to banking, crop insurance and federal grants, experts said.

That could open the industry, which produces therapeutic cannabidiol (CBD), fabric, rope and even ethanol, to a wave of investment. “This is a cultural shift,” said Bomi Joseph, creator of CBD product ImmunAG. “CBD is going to explode. I think the market is going to triple in size.”

Cannabidiol has been touted as an elixir that can do everything from cure cancer to tame menstrual cramps, but so far the U.S. Food and Drug administration has only approved a specific formulation of CBD to treat seizures associated with rare forms of epilepsy.

The bill “puts forth a whole-plant definition of hemp including extracts,” said Stansbury of the Hemp Industries Association. “We’re not just talking stalk or flower. Any product derived from hemp is a legal consumer product.”

But for now at least the FDA could stand in the way.

It states that CBD products can’t be sold as dietary supplements and that those making medical claims are illegal without its approval. However, the FDA aims its most serious enforcement efforts at products “marketed for serious or life threatening diseases,” according to a statement.

And the dietary supplement exclusion could be revisited, the administration has stated. “The FDA could allow it to be regulated as food and dietary supplements,” said Shawn Hauser of the Colorado law firm Vicente Sederberg, which worked on the hemp legislation.

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