U.S. hemp stakeholders have warmed over an old list of industry priorities for the next U.S. Farm Bill, continuing to ignore the elephant in the room: products that contain delta-8 THC and other intoxicating compounds made from hemp-derived CBD.
The recommendations, issued under the banner of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable (USHR), come as delay of the 2023 Farm Bill has opened up a window for further lobbying and debate over hemp extracts and downstream products.
A Jan. 3 USHR press release about the policy recommendations makes much ado about the “remarkable unity” among 33 trade bodies in the industry, but implies little cohesiveness when it comes to the controversial matter of intoxicating edibles, which have created turmoil in the CBD business – still the industry’s most lucrative subsector.
When the original statement of industry priorities was released last May, it failed to mention psychoactive hemp products at all. USHR repeats all original recommendations, but adds a call for policy that will “maintain the current definition of ‘hemp’ while balancing appropriate consumer protections with continued market access to popular hemp products” – those products presumably being intoxicating hemp edibles.
The products, which can produce a marijuana-like “high,” are made by putting CBD through various processes in the lab. The products are the source of lawsuits and regulatory challenges throughout the country, with different states taking different approaches as they try to tamp down a wild and woolly market in which many producers and distributors are playing a dangerous game.
Dangerous, first, to public health. Dodgy producers continue to market delta-8 and other intoxicating cannabinoids to children, packaging edible products in brightly colored motifs that mimic popular brands of candies and other treats. Because the products do not fall under rules for recreational or medical marijuana, they are not under safeguards that cover such things as tainting, proper packaging and health warnings.
Dangerous, second, to the entire hemp industry. Pioneering stakeholders of the “new era” in hemp have spent decades trying to clear up the misunderstanding that equates hemp with marijuana. With “intoxicating” hemp products more exposed to the public (and regulators), any results of those efforts are quickly being eroded, negatively affecting investment and development across all hemp sectors.
Yet the 33 groups flying under the USHR flag have nothing straightforward to say about this train wreck, failing to take the opportunity to put forth a realistic strategy for such products and missing the opportunity to cast itself as a responsible industry body when it comes to consumer safety.
A group of cannabis regulators from several states last August sent a letter to Congress suggesting a national framework be established for all hemp-based cannabinoids – including CBD and any downstream outputs made from CBD such as intoxicating hemp edibles. This reasoned document could have been the basis for an industry policy statement. However, hemp association memberships are overwhelmingly made up of – and financed by – CBD-related companies who do not agree in their approaches to intoxicating hemp products and cannot reach common principles – so they punt.
The 2018 Farm Bill set a landmark for industrial hemp by making legal “any part of that plant, including the seeds and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” However, lawmakers did not envision and never intended to legalize intoxicating products made from hemp derivatives.
Recognizing the potentially thorny problem of CBD itself – which had already flooded the market – the 2018 legislation held that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “retains its authority to regulate hemp products, including CBD products,” although the agency has yet to issue rules.
The synthetic, intoxicating cannabinoids – such as delta-8 THC, HHC, THC-P and THC-O – emerged in the wake of the CBD boom and bust that followed passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. As the market collapsed, those CBD producers hanging on eventually found an outlet for their pent-up supplies among dodgy producers who created a semi-gray market for the intoxicating products based on the loophole in federal law.
The 2023 Farm Bill, which was expected at the end of last year but is now delayed to next autumn, is an opportunity to address questions surrounding CBD and the intoxicating products that can be made from CBD. The delay means one more year of a muddled regulatory picture that can leave potentially unsafe intoxicating hemp products on the market.
In the best scenario, these products should be allowed but go under rules for marijuana and be strictly limited to licensed marijuana dispensaries, with proper manufacturing practices, labeling rules and warnings in place. To say the least, children should not have access to intoxicating treats at their local gas station or bodega.
Until the CBD sector can show it can manage its own behavior, clear rules and closer oversight by federal and state governments are necessary to safeguard consumers and boost the public’s confidence. The critical issue is not regulation as a form of punishment, but instead to define robust, responsible practices and standards. It’s clear the CBD industry is incapable of doing so.