Government Sows Confusion in U.S.

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A recently issued joint statement from U.S. federal authorities looks certain to hold back hemp, much to the chagrin of industry players. The “statement of principles on industrial hemp,” released Aug. 12 by a group of federal agencies, aims to clarify hemp’s status in light of a separate Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) statement issued earlier in the week regarding how cannabis is treated at the federal level — particularly medical cannabis derived from high-THC marijuana — or cannabis indica.

In essence, the developments would seem to keep hemp, which is low in THC and holds great promise for a number of applications, at its current status as legal only under government controlled research and development programs.

The initial DEA statement indicated the feds will not remove marijuana from the Schedule I Drugs list where it will presumably remain despite indications at the federal level that a change would be forthcoming.

“Marijuana laws have been unconstitutional since 1937, that such a deeply unpopular (89%) law is still propped up by our friends in Congress means we will one day look back on them like we do the Democrats who backed slavery,” said Richard Rose, founder of the U.S.-based Medicinal Hemp Association

The DEA said its decision on marijuana regulation, announced Thursday, came after lengthy review and consultation with the Health and Human Services Department, which said marijuana “has a high potential for abuse” and “no accepted medical use.” The decision means marijuana will remain illegal for any purpose under federal law, despite laws in Oregon, 24 other states and the District of Columbia that have legalized pot for medicinal and/or recreational use.

Still in seeming limbo is the situation regarding cannabidiol (CBD), a low-THC hemp derivative that has shown promise in treatment of seizures and other medical conditions. While CBD is being sold in the United States, its legal status remains unclear. The FDA, for example, issued warnings last year to several CBD sellers regarding what it termed questionable health claims — leading to a slowdown in imports that hit European growers hard; fully half the CBD plant material grown in Europe — where hemp cultivation is fully legal — had been going to the U.S. market.

“The Statement’s definition is very troublesome, in two respects.,” the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) said in response to the federal communique.

First, the Statement’s definition would require that to be considered ‘industrial hemp,’ any part of the plant must be ‘used exclusively for industrial purposes (fiber and seed).’  That implies that the flowering tops of the plant would not be considered ‘industrial hemp,’ even though they clearly are so considered under the statutory definition,” the HIA said.

Second, the Statement defines ‘industrial hemp’ as having a ‘tetrahydrocannabinols’ (plural) concentration of not more than 0.3 percent, with the term ‘tetrahydrocannabinols’ to include ‘all isomers, acids, salts and salts of isomers ….’  This expanded definition could be read to require that cannabinoids other than THC—such as CBD—actually be considered in determining whether the 3/10 of one percent threshold has been exceeded—which would exclude much legitimate industrial hemp from the definition,” HIA added

Friday’s clarification on the status of industrial hemp, which is legal under Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014, would seem to indicate no changes — and no progress — are afoot for the crop. Under the statement, previous guidelines still stand, including:

  • Under the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act seed importers must be registered with the DEA.
  • State pilot hemp growing programs must provide for registration and certification of sites used for growing or cultivating industrial hemp.
  • Only State departments of agriculture, and persons licensed, registered, or otherwise authorized by those departments may conduct research under the pilot programs.
  • “Industrial hemp” (the plant Cannabis sativa L.) and “any part or derivative of such plant, including seeds of such plant, whether growing or not, that is used exclusively for industrial purposes (fiber and seed)” can have a maximum THC concentration 0.3 percent or less on a dry weight basis.
  • Industrial hemp products may be sold in and among states with agricultural pilot programs but can’t be sold in states where such sale is prohibited.
  • Industrial hemp plants and seeds may not be transported across state lines.

Nonetheless, the clarifying statement reiterated that the DEA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture still consider hemp and most products that derive from hemp to be illegal despite at least 28 states across the country passing laws to legalize the plant.

“I’m disappointed the DEA put the issue of industrial hemp in the ‘to be continued’ category,” U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told The Bulletin (Bend, Oregon) in a statement. “I’m going to keep working to build support for my Industrial Hemp Farming Act to lift the federal ban on growing hemp in America and give farmers in Oregon and across the country new opportunities for economic growth.”

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