You may have noticed the recent release of a letter signed by 21 state attorneys general, advocating for a revision to the farm bill to address the emergence of intoxicating cannabinoids derived from hemp. While I found the letter to be somewhat exaggerated in its portrayal of the risks associated with cannabis intoxicants, it nevertheless highlights significant issues requiring attention.

 

First and foremost, let’s examine two commonly used terms: “loophole” and “bad actors.” These terms often escalate rhetoric and hinder resolution of the issue. Whether Congress intended to legalize intoxicants derived from hemp is debatable; it’s perhaps more accurate to consider these intoxicants as unintended consequences. Consequently, businesses capitalizing on this opportunity shouldn’t be labeled as “bad actors” across the board. While there certainly are bad actors, they are those producing substandard products without appropriate labeling and safety testing and those marketing to children. Engaging in a more constructive dialogue requires us to refrain from demonizing individuals forced to operate in an unregulated industry. This industry remains unregulated due to Congress’s failure to provide the FDA with the necessary framework to regulate all cannabinoids, regardless of their intoxicating properties or origin from hemp or high-THC cannabis.

In my view, the problem should not be addressed solely through the farm bill. While the bill indeed defined hemp and removed certain substances from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), it’s essential to recognize that intoxicating products are manufactured beyond the USDA’s jurisdiction, which ends once the plant leaves the farm. We must avoid punishing farmers inadvertently.

The farm bill’s primary aim was to enable hemp cultivation and prevent the growth of “marijuana.” However, the removal of various derivatives and cannabinoids from the CSA inadvertently led to the exclusion of delta-8 and other intoxicants. Additionally, the 0.3% threshold for THC content, measured on a dry weight basis, permits the presence of intoxicating levels of Delta-9 THC in food and beverages based on the product’s overall weight. If there is a push to ban intoxicants, it should be addressed within the CSA, as all relevant cannabinoids are intoxicating regardless of their source material. In essence, the focus should be on banning the end products. Naturally, this approach must be executed thoughtfully to avoid inappropriate bans on full-spectrum CBD products.

With over 40 states legalizing some form of high-THC cannabis, the most effective long-term solution lies in completely removing cannabis from the CSA and entrusting its regulation to the FDA. This approach allows for proper oversight while permitting individual states to impose their own bans if desired. Whatever solution Congress ultimately decides upon, it’s crucial to differentiate and regulate industrial hemp separately from hemp cultivated for cannabinoids or high-THC cannabis, as outlined in the Industrial Hemp Act (S.980/HR.3755), which proposes a more sensible framework.

About the author

Erica Stark is a highly committed and knowledgeable professional  who has dedicated herself to the growth and development of the hemp industry. As the Executive Director of the National Hemp Association (NHA) since 2017, she has become a trusted voice for policymakers and industry leaders. She was honored to be invited to testify at a US Senate Ag Committee hearing in 2019.

Erica’s service to the hemp industry can be traced back to her grassroots advocacy work in 2014. She went on to become a founding member of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council (PAHIC), serving as both Secretary and Executive Director. She was part of a small team that successfully pushed through hemp legislation in Pennsylvania with a unanimous vote in a single session. In 2023 she was elected as Chairwoman of PAHIC. Erica also serves on the PA Hemp Steering Committee, an advisory council to the PA Department of Agriculture and is the owner of Neversink Consulting LLC.

This content is an opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the National Hemp Association