Government Begins to Weigh in on Hemp—What Does It Mean for CBD?

Government Begins to Weigh in on Hemp—What Does It Mean for CBD?

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It’s taken a bit longer than many had hoped, but it seems like government regulation for CBD may finally be in the works. As October came to a close, one federal organization dropped newly drafted rules regulating CBD at its source—industrial hemp. 

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new guidelines may act as a preface for the heavily anticipated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, as well as help implement guidelines that ensure more consistent crop yield and testing procedures. These rules may also help protect U.S farmers from legal repercussions resulting from the level of uncertainty surrounding the industry, and best of all may improve consumer-safety by involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

A Breakdown of New Hemp Regulations

Because these regulations come from the USDA, they mainly affect hemp farmers, but it’s easy to assume that regulatory benefits trickle their way down to the consumer. The new rules, commonly referred to as the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program, will allow the legal production of hemp in every state and on reserved land, giving businesses, tribes, and individuals an opportunity to cash in on the crop. The program outlines what the USDA considers a “fair, consistent, and science-based process” for hemp production and serves to officially enact the 2018 Farm Bill, which calls for the legal production of hemp for its fiber, seed, grain, and extracts (like CBD). 

The new program also gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture the necessary guidelines to review and approve agricultural hemp plans submitted by states and tribal communities. For those who haven’t submitted their own plans for USDA approval, the program establishes a Federal plan that can be used instead. 

First, the program outlines the protection of hemp growers who produce hemp with a THC level that (reasonably) varies from the outlined legal levels of 0.3%. Specifically, the program protects farmers from legal repercussions on crops that test above the legal guidelines but still remain below 0.5%. These guidelines were placed in response to some uncertainty currently surrounding hemp farming, mainly based on the varying genetics of hemp strains. 

Some have also suggested the idea that certain environmental factors may sway the plant’s THC content one way or the other. All in all, this guideline will simply protect farmers who took the right steps to produce legally defined “industrial hemp,” but were affected by unforeseeable circumstances. No worries on the consumer side, however, as crops containing more than 0.3% THC must still be destroyed. The U.S. Domestic Hemp Production program also highlights proper procedures for hemp disposal in these cases. 

Crop testing to define the THC content must now be carried out by a DEA-registered lab, according to the new guidelines. Testing of plant material must also be done within 15 days before harvest, and is also required to be overseen by a USDA-approved sampling agent, either at the local, state, or federal level. 

The new program offers a reliable method for the collection of sample material that is widely representative of the crop, too, to help increase the consistency and reliability of pre-harvest tests. Each state is given the right to submit their own testing protocols, so long as they may match the suggested protocol, for consideration by the USDA.

The program also hits other high points, like rules for maintaining information on the farmland used for crops, which concerns things like the land’s history or soil quality. Plus, producers will be able to receive a certification signifying that their staff and facilities are capable of producing hemp according to these guidelines.

These new regulations, considered “interim final rules” expire in two years, and are to be followed by final rules for the industry. The next two growing seasons will be used to make considerations and adjustments to the interim rules, and changes are expected to be made as new challenges arise. 

How Do USDA Rules Affect CBD?

For the most part, the USDA rules only affect hemp and the farming process, and they are (understandably) leaving the regulation of CBD to the FDA. The rules still define CBD as legal based on it being a constituent of processed hemp, but without FDA involvement there are still many restrictions on how CBD can be used and marketed. 

These FDA guidelines are eagerly awaited by many, but the USDA guidelines truly were the first stepping stone to a fully regulated industry. These guidelines are expected to create consistency that has otherwise been lacking in the hemp farming sector, and will hopefully allow multiple new producers the opportunity to grow hemp as well. 

Of course, much of the hemp grown will likely be used for textiles, building materials, hemp-based plastics, and more, and only a fraction of the hemp produced is expected to go towards creating CBD products. Still, these regulations should also act as the best first step in weeding out lower-quality producers, offering a richer harvest for CBD manufacturers. 

With firm production rules in place, the FDA has a better foundation for supplying their own regulations for CBD as a health supplement, especially when added to foods and drinks. It’s still unknown when the FDA plans to release these updates to regulate CBD as a dietary supplement, but it’s expected to be a game-changer for the CBD industry, and will hopefully incite even more research into the health benefits of the hemp-derived supplement. Although more delayed than many had hoped, it does appear that federal agencies are beginning to move on the topic, which is a heavy step in the right direction for a prosperous, consumer-friendly industry. 

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