While efforts to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level are ongoing, there’s a simultaneous conversation underway on regulating another cannabis product: hemp.
Last Thursday, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on hemp, entitled, “An Examination of the USDA Hemp Production Program.”
Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-U.S. Virgin Islands, who chairs the Agriculture Subcommittee on the Examination of the USDA Hemp Production program, listened alongside her colleagues to testimony on how to help the growing number of hemp farmers.
“This hearing is an opportunity for us to hear what we can do to ensure the continued growth and development of this re-surging crop," Plaskett said.
“The Subcommittee received requests for greater market certainty and stability for farmers, producers, and consumers of the hemp industry. We also heard about industry successes, which include creating space for market diversification as well as addressing gaps and limits in the supply chain, including processing and manufacturing, increasing production capacity, and strengthening the links between the supply chain," she said in a statement.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, hemp and marijuana are both in the Cannabis family. While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the Farm Bill signed into law by former President Donald Trump allowed hemp to be legally grown and sold across the United states.
Hemp farming has become popular because the plant contains CBD, which has many therapeutic benefits.
The National Library of Medicine outlines hemp's many uses in products such as oil, food, protein, and credits hemp as less environmentally harmful than other crops.
Legalizing hemp has gotten support from lawmakers across the aisle.
“Following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, a wave of innovation followed and as researchers and companies started identifying uses for hemp fiber, including building materials, insulation, animal bedding, concrete, and even car parts," Rep. Jim Baird, R-Ind., told Spectrum News in an interview.
Lawmakers are interested in ensuring hemp producers have the tools they need to help their industry grow. Private companies say the industry would grow if lawmakers mandate FDA regulation of CBD products.
“The big retailers that targets to the world, Walmart’s Kroger, Albertsons, Safeway, they can’t take CBD ingestible products right now, because they don’t have FDA approval because the FDA hasn’t put it in guidelines," Chase Terwillige, the CEO of Balanced Health Botanicals, a hemp-deprived CBD maker based in the U.S., told Spectrum.
Desires and the demand for hemp products to be legalized on a federal and state level have grown.
“If the FDA gave us more direction, more private sector investment products would occur and many well known consumer brands will have a tremendous interest in hemp products, ” Kentucky’s commissioner of agriculture, Dr. Ryan F. Quarles, testified at the hemp committee.
While most of hemp is grown in states like California and Kentucky, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine., said the changes are also urgently needed in her state. She introduced separate legislation earlier this year to address the “bureaucratic red tape” currently in place.
“We have growers all over the state. I’ve talked to some producers in Maine who have problems where their employees are struggling to get fingerprints that are acceptable by the FBI for criminal history reports,” Pingree said.
Lawmakers have more than a year until the latest farm bill expires and they say they are hurrying to get officials from the USDA and FDA to get involved in the discussion.