Hemp Associations Versus Hemp (Again)

In keeping with their long history of hurting hemp (see here, here, here, here, and here), the hemp trade associations now support a new bill in Congress to devastate the young industry by criminalizing Delta-8 and other legal isomers. Ironically, Delta-8 products saved the hemp industry the last two years. It also tightens max THC to 1% Total from 0.3% Delta-9. Luckily the bill has no co-sponsors… yet.

House bill boosts hemp’s THC limit

Food and Agricultural Policy | Headline Analysis – United States

JR Pegg US Policy Correspondent

  • House bill boosts legal hemp limit of THC and removes DEA-registered lab testing requirements.
  • Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) says measure addresses “overly complicated” and “unworkable” requirements that have impeded hemp industry growth.
  • Measure looks unlikely to move as a standalone bill but could set the stage for new hemp provisions in 2023 Farm Bill.

A new House bill would increase the legal limit of THC in hemp and remove the federal requirement that hemp testing occur at laboratories registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), the measure would boost the THC limit for hemp and hemp extracts from 0.3% delta-9 THC to 1% total THC on a dry weight basis, a change much of the hemp industry has urged Congress to make. Stakeholders have complained that the current limit is too low and puts them in legal jeopardy as THC levels can fluctuate under weather conditions and during processing. The bill requires finished hemp products meet a limit of 0.3% total THC.

The DEA-lab testing requirement has caused additional headaches for the hemp industry due to the lack of accredited facilities. According to USDA, there are 79 DEA-registered labs across the country where hemp producers can get their crop tested—Pingree noted that there are none in Maine and only two in New England.

The Maine Democrat’s “Hemp Advancement Act of 2022” would also reverse a provision of the Farm Bill that bars people with drug-related felony convictions from receiving hemp licenses and participating in the market for the recently legalized crop.

Pingree said her legislation is needed to help an industry that has been “stunted by unworkable” testing requirements.

“The 2018 Farm Bill laid a legal pathway for hemp production but created overly complicated regulations and hardship for farmers and small businesses in the process,” she added. “My bill takes a commonsense, straightforward approach to correct these unintended implementation problems and works to make the hemp industry more profitable and more equitable. My bill also provides a clear path forward for this industry and will support a thriving hemp economy.”

Eyeing the Farm Bill

The bill has the backing of the US Hemp Roundtable, American Herbal Products Association and a dozen other hemp and cannabis groups. Although it lacks any cosponsors in Congress and may struggle to gain traction as a standalone bill, Pingree—who sits on both the House Agriculture and Appropriations Committees—will likely push for it to be included in the 2023 Farm Bill. 

Other bills aimed at reforming the hemp and CBD markets have so far failed to gain any momentum in Congress, despite strong bipartisan support for the hemp industry.

The legalization of hemp through the 2018 Farm Bill was greeted with enthusiasm across the ag sector, but cultivation has plummeted after an initial boom. Industry research firm Hemp Benchmarks says only 195,000 acres were registered for hemp cultivation in 2021, down from nearly 430,000 acres in 2020 and 580,000 in 2019. The company estimates actual acreage planted last year was likely less than half the 160,000 acres planted in 2020.

There are an array of factors behind the drop, including a major oversupply of CBD hemp biomass after the early fervor among farmers after the 2018 Farm Bill was enacted. Industry experts say significant quantities of biomass remain in storage and without buyers. The market has also been disrupted by supply chain issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, and the high prices for corn, soybeans and other traditional row crops have made hemp less appealing to farmers.

CBD and delta-8

There is also the murky legality around CBD. FDA has yet to develop a regulatory pathway for use in foods and supplements, leading to a fractured marketplace where such products are legal in some states and not in others. Some hemp interests have pivoted to delta-8, often called “light weed” for its mild intoxicating properties.

Hemp plants produce only very low quantities naturally, but cannabidiol (CBD) can be synthetically converted into delta-8 THC with a solvent, acid and heat. Some hemp growers see delta-8 THC as a potentially lucrative product given the glut of CBD on the market and it has been touted as an effective alternative to treat scores of ailments, ranging from anxiety to chronic pain.

But public health and legal concerns abound and the proliferation of delta-8 products has alarmed some state regulators and health officials. At least 18 states, including Texas and California, have moved to restrict or ban delta-8 THC. In September, FDA and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued warnings to consumers about the potential health risks, in light of the proliferation of foods, vapes and other products containing delta-8 THC as well as increasing reports of adverse effects.

Along with the uptick in adverse reactions and worry about the marketing of delta-8 products aimed at children, FDA and CDC said they have concerns about harmful byproducts from methods of manufacturing.

Questions remain about the potential contaminants from the chemicals used in the process and FDA said there is also “uncertainty as respect to other contaminants that may be present or produced depending on the composition of the starting raw material.”

Some hemp advocates worry that Congress did not intend to legalize delta-8 products and fear controversy could further impede progress to open up the market for hemp-derived CBD supplements and foods. Several bills to compel FDA action on the CBD front have been introduced in the past 18 months but none has advanced.

Pingree’s bill could clarify the legal landscape for delta-8 and make many products illegal at the federal level as it redefines the hemp definition from beyond delta-9 THC to total THC. It defines total THC concentration as the “aggregate concentration” of delta-8, delta-9, delta-10 and “the optical isomers of such substances.”