Hemp Industry Pushes Congress To Hold FDA Accountable With Hearing On CBD Regulation Inaction

A coalition of hemp industry organizations are calling on a House committee to hold a hearing addressing the ongoing lack of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations for products made with constituents of the crop such as CBD.

In a letter addressed to House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders, 28 state and national  nonprofits focused on hemp and dietary supplements said that “the time for a hearing has never been riper” to examine regulatory pathways that FDA could enact to allow for the lawful marketing of hemp products for humans and animals.

“In the more than five years since the legalization of hemp through the 2018 Farm Bill, in spite of a designated annual appropriation, the FDA has taken no meaningful steps toward the regulation of hemp—whether it be animal feed or extracts for human consumption like CBD,” the groups said.

FDA said last year that, after an extensive review, it determined that it lacked necessary authority to establish regulations for the hemp and CBD market, stating that it will require additional congressional support.

“Meanwhile, thousands of unregulated products continue to be sold, causing great consumer confusion and advantaging bad actors via-a-vis good faith manufacturers who want to play by the rules and offer healthy products,” the letter says.

The House Energy and Commerce and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee responded to FDA’s inaction last summer by putting out a Request for Information (RIF) from experts on the best path forward for regulating hemp, with hundreds of respondents sharing their perspective and recommendations.

“By now, your staff has had months to review and consider these recommendations,” the organizations said in the new letter, adding that “Energy & Commerce must weigh in for there to be meaningful action.”

“We’ve been assured that an Energy & Commerce hearing would take place on a number of occasions, but the time for a hearing has never been riper,” they said. “We urge you to take immediate steps to hold a hearing before your committee, bringing the RFI ideas to public light, and offering an opportunity for your Members to weigh in on the crucial issues that must be resolved for the hemp industry to survive, and for health and public safety to truly be protected.”

“The FDA’s inaction is hurting farmers and putting consumers at risk. Further, U.S. farmers have been crushed economically by the lack of regulations, with commodity prices dropping across the board by more than 90 per cent. This delay has posed significant problems and obstacles for other downstream hemp products including fiber and grain offtakes that include construction materials, bioplastics, biofuels and food ingredients. And with the rescheduling of marijuana apparently imminent, lack of regulatory certainty for hemp will pose an even more urgent crisis for farmers, consumers, state regulators and law enforcement.”

The letter was signed by more than two dozen organizations including the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC) and U.S. Hemp Roundtable.

“It is no small task to unite today’s hemp industry around a shared goal. But this letter, and the accompanying 28 organizations, have all agreed we need FDA action to regulate hemp products, and we need it now,” Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, said in a press release on Wednesday. “The fate of the entire industry—hemp extracts, fiber, seed, etc.—depend on regulatory oversight, and we urge House Energy & Commerce to take swift action to address these issues through a hearing in the near future.”

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After FDA announced that it wouldn’t be taking steps to create hemp and CBD regulations, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), along with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), filed legislation last July that would remove regulatory barriers that FDA claims prevents it from allowing the hemp marketing.

The House Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on Health Care and Financial Services also held a hearing on FDA inaction over CBD last year, a first-of-its-kind meeting where bipartisan members strongly criticized the agency’s position.

Meanwhile, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) is separately calling on Congress to increase the THC limit for legal hemp as one of their 2024 policy priorities.

The 0.3 percent THC limit for hemp that was imposed under the 2018 Farm Bill that federally legalized the crop has long been subject to criticism from stakeholders and lawmakers across the aisle. And one Justice Department researcher recently called into question the rationale for the restriction, suggesting it was arbitrarily decided based on a 1950s-era article that was adopted into federal statute.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently outlined how differing policy priorities among industry stakeholders could complicate the task of updating the next farm bill’s hemp provisions, but there are several areas of agreement within the top industry groups.

One of those shared interests is amending the law to raise the THC limit to one percent for compliant hemp—a proposal that was also addressed in a standalone bill from Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) in 2022.

It’s unclear if congressional lawmakers will ultimately tackle the Farm Bill this year. The 2018 version was set to expire at the end of last year, but it was extended under a bill President Joe Biden signed.

There have been a number of other hemp bills that were filed this session that lawmakers may also consider folding in to the broader agricultural legislation.

One bipartisan bill filed last 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 last year would reduce regulations on farmers that grow industrial hemp for non-extraction purposes.

Separately, 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.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) started sending out thousands of surveys to hemp farmers across the country on Monday to better understand the state of the industry as part of its annual data collection initiative.

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Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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