On December 11, 2018, a historic moment took place in Washington D.C. For the first time since the early days of the country, lawmakers voted on sweeping changes to hemp production in the United States.
With the stroke of a pen made from hemp, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) signed off on the 2018 Farm Bill. At the time of publication, this legislation heads to President Trump’s desk for his expected signature.
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What is the Farm Bill?
The U.S. Farm Bill was originally a part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1933. It was created with the goal of regulating food supply and prices for farmers and consumers and establish federal requirements for sustainability.
Since then, the U.S. Farm Bill is a package of legislation that is passed through Congress every five to six years. It covers a spectrum of farm and food-related subjects, including but not limited to:
- Crop subsidies
- Cultivation regulations
- Food exports
- Types of crops that can legally be grown
- Access to crop insurance
- Food access for low-income families and international food aid
- Rural Development
- Organic certifications
- Conservation and renewable energy incentives
Why is the 2018 Farm Bill historic?
In a Congress more known for party-line votes than bipartisanship, the 2018 Farm Bill met approval in both chambers. But the Farm Bill is nothing new. As mentioned, a version of it passes every five to six years.
So what makes the 2018 Farm Bill so historic? It is the inclusion of a provision that explicitly legalizes hemp cultivation on the federal level. The 2018 Farm Bill will amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), separating hemp from the definition of marijuana, which is still federally illegal.
Under the new legislation, hemp (defined as the cannabis L. sativa plant with less than .3% THC) will no longer be a Schedule I controlled substance. Accordingly, this new definition includes all hemp cannabinoids, derivatives and extracts. When it comes to hemp, the potential applications are astounding. Hemp can clean soil after oil spills; to make paper, cars and car batteries; and build homes in the form of hempcrete. And that doesn’t even include the potential medical applications of hemp.
Importantly, the 2018 Farm Bill does not change the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) stance that cannabidiol (CBD) is a drug. The FDA does not approve of CBD as a dietary supplement or food additive.
So, is growing hemp legal now?
Yes, if the 2018 Farm Bill is signed by the President. But hemp cultivation will only be legal for licensed growers. Felons or individuals with a previous marijuana conviction will not be qualified for a hemp license. The 2018 Farm Bill does not give an individual the right to start growing hemp in their backyard.
The 2018 Farm Bill allows for the cultivation of hemp like any other “commodity” crop authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). As such, the USDA will create federal standards to oversee hemp cultivation. With this legislation, farmers will have access to hemp crop insurance and federal certifications. States can create their own governing entity. But it must meet federal standards and gain approval by the USDA.
The 2018 Farm Bill does not, however, change state laws. It does repeal the hemp pilot program after 12 months and requires the USDA to prepare a report on the success of those programs within 6 months. Conversely, states may still ban the cultivation and sale of hemp. But the 2018 Farm Bill does protect the interstate commerce of hemp product, limiting a state’s ability to interfere with hemp shipped across state lines.
How does the 2018 Farm Bill affect hemp research?
The 2018 Farm Bill establishes additional research requirements on hemp. With this, more access to federal research grants will become available. This emphasis on research also covers hemp cannabinoids, like CBD. With more access to research on CBD, the FDA may be more likely to change their stance on it as a dietary supplement and food additive.
How do I get a license to grow hemp?
According to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp licenses are granted in two ways. Firstly, if a state enacts its own regulatory scheme for hemp cultivation, hemp licenses will be granted through the state’s Department of Agriculture. If there is no state program, federal hemp licenses will be granted through the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.