Language floated for Farm Bill would wipe out delta-8, other hemp intoxicants

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Proposed new provisions for the next U.S. Farm Bill are bearing down on delta-8 THC and other intoxicating hemp-derived substances as lawmakers begin to look at serious language that would curtail products containing the substances.

First, draft language in a U.S. House version of the new Farm Bill floated earlier this month distinguishes between plants grown for flowers to produce cannabinoid extracts from which the psychoactive hemp substances are derived, and the more traditional “industrial hemp,” which includes crops farmed for food in the form of grain, and those grown for the plant’s valuable fibers.

By contrast, language in the landmark 2018 Farm Bill set out a unified, all-inclusive definition for industrial hemp as “any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers.” That original language failed to anticipate the emergence of the synthetic intoxicants, which are sold as an alternative to marijuana, and which have developed into a booming gray market.

Against that backdrop, an amendment specifically designed to crack down on the controversial products was included in a version of the Farm Bill passed out of the House Committee on Agriculture yesterday.

Redefining hemp

Draft language being floated in the renewal Farm Bill offers a two-part definition that separates outputs into:

1: “Hemp Grown for Cannabinoid Extraction: The term ‘hemp grown for cannabinoid extraction’ means any hemp grown for purposes of extracting cannabinoids intended for human or animal consumption, inhalation, or topical use.”

2: “Industrial Hemp: The term ‘industrial hemp’ means hemp—

(A) grown for the use of the stalk of the plant, fiber produced from such a stalk, or any other non-cannabinoid derivative, mixture, preparation, or manufacture of such a stalk;

(B) grown for the use of the whole grain, oil, cake, nut, hull, or any other non-cannabinoid compound, derivative, mixture, preparation, or manufacture of the seeds of such plant;

(C) that is an immature hemp plant intended for human consumption;

(D) that is a plant that does not enter the stream of commerce and is intended to support hemp research at an institution of higher education (as defined in section 101 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001)) or an independent research institute; or

(E) grown for the use of a viable seed of the plant produced solely for the production or manufacture of any material described in subparagraphs (A) through (D).”

‘Parents strongly oppose’

The bifurcated definition, which emerged earlier this month, set the stage for a straightforward correction in the form of an amendment this week by Illinois Rep. Mary Miller, a Republican member of the agriculture committee.

Miller took to the X social media platform Wednesday to say: “I am offering an amendment to close the loophole that legalized intoxicating hemp products like ‘delta-8,’ which is being marketed to teenagers and children. These drug-infused products are often sold in colorful packaging next to candy and snacks, which parents strongly oppose!”

The products are often targeted to youth by mimicking popular brands.

Miller’s amendment further constrains the definition of hemp to include only naturally occurring, naturally derived cannabinoids, wiping out the lab-made synthetic intoxicants, which take such forms as delta-8 THC – the most popular of the substances – THCA, delta-10 THC, THC-O-acetate, HHC, THCP and others.

Language addressing hemp in a Senate draft of the upcoming Farm Bill does not make the same distinctions between industrial hemp and hemp for cannabinoid extraction.  But the senate committee on agriculture has yet to release the full text of its bill.

Stakeholder group the U.S. Hemp Roundtable issued an urgent appeal at midweek, calling on lawmaker constituents to push back against the Miller amendment. The group said the legislation would ban all ingestible hemp products no matter the THC content. 

“This amendment from Rep. Mary Miller (R-IL) would not only ban potentially impairing products like Delta-8, but it would bring under a new prohibition all non-intoxicating CBD products with any quantifiable amount of THC – meaning 90-95% of the hemp products market would be federally banned,” the group warned. “Even animal feed – which has been approved by FDA for these uses – would be banned. Redefining hemp to include a calculation of THC-A would even wreak havoc in the fiber and grain market.”

Safety warnings

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has repeatedly warned consumers about hemp-derived intoxicants – known variously as “diet weed,” “marijuana light,” or “gas station pot” – noting that the unregulated and therefore often unsafe products may contain harmful chemicals, and should be kept away from children and pets. The FDA has also warned producers that the products are not categorized under GRAS (generally recognized as safe) guidelines and that any food containing the compounds is therefore also adulterated.

Earlier this year, top law enforcement officials from 20 states and the District of Columbia signed on to a bi-partisan letter urging Congress to use the upcoming Farm Bill to address the spread of intoxicating hemp products, suggesting the 2018 version of the agriculture legislation has both failed to create commodities markets for hemp food and fiber products while simultaneously creating “a significant threat to public health and safety . . . benefiting unregulated, untaxed, and unaccountable market actors.”

In the absence of federal laws or rules to govern the hemp intoxicants, states throughout the U.S. are working to get their arms around a runaway market for products that contain them. Recreational and medical marijuana stakeholders have piled on, arguing the hemp intoxicants represent unfair competition because they are not burdened by rules and fees in states that have legal marijuana markets.

The next Farm Bill – originally the 2023 Farm Bill, but which has been repeatedly pushed back and may not be ready until 2025, is a sweeping $1 trillion agriculture spending package passed every five years.

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