House Democratic Group Pushes To Reduce Hemp Growers’ Regulatory Burdens In Next Farm Bill

A pro-business, center-left group of House Democratic lawmakers is pushing to use the next Farm Bill to reduce regulatory burdens on industrial hemp growers.

The New Democrat Coalition, which is comprised of nearly 100 House members and describes itself as “united behind a mission to build an economy that works for every American,” released an endorsement slate on Monday that lays out policy priorities as lawmakers begin to craft the 2023 Farm Bill. One of the 44 bills they want to incorporate is the Industrial Hemp Act from Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA).

Hemp and its derivatives like CBD that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight were legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill—and regulatory responsibility falls with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The pending reform bill seeks to create a distinction between “industrial” hemp that’s grown for products like fiber and “hemp for any purpose” which would cover crops cultivated to extract cannabinoids like CBD.

Farmers who cultivate industrial hemp would no longer be subject to background checks in order to participate in the market, and they wouldn’t have to fulfill rigorous sampling and testing requirements.

Instead, they would simply have to go through an annual visual inspection, where they would need to demonstrate that they’re growing the crop for a purpose covered under the new “industrial hemp” definition. If they failed the initial visual review they would then need to provide documentation demonstrating “a clear intent and in-field practices consistent with the designation” of industrial hemp. Only if they refused to do so would regulators then be empowered to physically test harvested plant material.

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The measure—a Senate companion version of which is being led by Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Mike Braun (R-IN)—also preempts states and tribes from enacting requirements on industrial hemp growers that are more stringent than those laid out in the bill. It further provides that anyone who knowingly produces hemp crops that are inconsistent with their designation will be ineligible to participate in the legal hemp industry for a period of five years.

“New Dems will continue working diligently with our colleagues in both parties and with stakeholders to advance a Farm Bill that includes these endorsed bills and rejects efforts to undermine investments in America’s agricultural future,” the caucus’s farm bill task force leaders said in a statement.

This is likely not the only piece of hemp-related legislation that lawmakers will seek to attach to the next large-scale agriculture bill. The hemp market saw a significant decline in value last year, according to USDA, and stakeholders have cited a number of recent proposals as candidates to address the issue and build on the crop’s legalization under the current Farm Bill.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken significant blame for the economic downturn, with stakeholders faulting the agency for not enacting regulations that would allow for the marketing of hemp-derived cannabinoids in dietary supplements and food products. FDA said it needed further congressional action to develop such rules.

A report last month from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) detailed challenges facing the nation’s hemp industry, highlighting FDA’s determination as a contributor to the market decline.

In July, bipartisan and bicameral lawmakers filed legislation that would remove regulatory barriers that FDA claims prevents it from allowing CBD sales in the food supply or as dietary supplements.

A recent House subcommittee hearing specifically focused on the impact of the lack of FDA rules, and a separate pair of bicameral health committees has solicited expert input on the issue as they consider potential legislative fixes.

State marijuana regulators with the Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) also recently sent a letter to congressional agriculture committee leaders, requesting that they use the Farm Bill to adjust the federal definition of the crop and modify rules around hemp-derived cannabinoids.

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Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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