Congressional Researchers Caution That Differing Hemp Industry Interests Could ‘Complicate’ Debate Over Next Farm Bill

As lawmakers prepare to take up possible changes to federal hemp laws as part of the next Farm Bill, congressional researchers are cautioning that differing policy priorities among industry stakeholders could complicate the task.

In a hemp-focused primer on the large-scale agriculture legislation that was published on Wednesday, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) outlined the current state of the cannabis market since hemp was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill and previewed the different ways that lawmakers, industry interests and advocates are hoping to shape the next version of the legislation.

Stakeholders who are seeking to influence policymaking on the crop “cover many national and regional groups with different policy goals and priorities,” the analysis says. “These priorities often are tied to the primary products they produce and/or represent or may be based on the part of the hemp plant used.”

For instance, groups representing businesses that grow industrial hemp for fiber may not necessarily be aligned on all issues with those that represent companies that produce CBD oils.

CRS listed a number of hemp-specific interest groups that have established their presence in the cannabis policy debate in Congress, including Hemp Industries Association (HIA), Vote Hemp, U.S. Hemp Roundtable, National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC) and the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH).

“These interest groups often have differing priorities, which may complicate U.S. hemp policymaking,” the report says. “Moreover, the interests of these groups often span the use of hemp as an industrial input, as a food ingredient, and as a dietary supplement ingredient.”

One of the priority areas that could overlap among the organizations, however, is the shared desire to “relax some of USDA’s regulatory requirements, which some grower groups and state regulators contend are overly restrictive and impractical,” CRS said.

For example, stakeholders, advocates and lawmakers seem to largely agree that they’d like to see an end to a Farm Bill requirement that hemp be tested at labs registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as that restriction has led to some procedural bottlenecking.

The CRS report also referenced several hemp bills that have been filed this session that lawmakers may consider folding in to the broader agricultural legislation. There’s more time to look at those different options, too, given that President Joe Biden signed stopgap spending legislation this month that extends the current Farm Bill for an additional year.

One bipartisan bill filed in March seeks to end what critics say is a “discriminatory” federal policy that bars people with prior felony drug convictions from owning or leading legal hemp businesses.

Another measure introduced with bipartisan sponsors this year would reduce regulations on farmers that grow industrial hemp for non-extraction purposes.

Top of mind for other hemp stakeholders and legislators is their interest in finding a regulatory pathway to allow for the lawful marketing of hemp products like CBD oil as dietary supplements and in the food supply. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulatory jurisdiction over that issue, but at the beginning of the year, the agency said it didn’t have a pathway to make it happen and instead offered to work with Congress on a solution.

In response, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), along with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), filed legislation in July that would remove regulatory barriers that FDA claims prevents it from allowing CBD marketing.

CRS goes on to say in the new report that most hemp advocates want to expand U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) farm program support for hemp and hemp products.

“This includes efforts to expand research related to genetics and management practices and targeted support to develop processing capacity of hemp fibers for use in insulation, construction materials, and plastics,” the report says.

Meanwhile, recent reporting could prompt additional reform proposals, as it’s come to light that USDA has been revoking certain hemp licenses for businesses that dually retain state licenses for marijuana.

For the time being, the hemp industry continues to face unique regulatory hurdles that stakeholders blame for the crop’s value plummeting in the short years since its legalization. Despite the economic conditions, however, a recent report found that the hemp market in 2022 was larger than all state marijuana markets, and it roughly equaled sales for craft beer nationally.

Meanwhile, internally at USDA, food safety workers are being encouraged to exercise caution and avoid cannabis products, including federally legal CBD, as the agency observes an “uptick” in positive THC tests amid “confusion” as more states enact legalization.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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