boom to bust

2024 Farm Bill Amendment Threatens to Derail The Hemp Industry

From Boom to Bust: Anyone running a hemp business right now is definitely biting their nails as a relaxed and relatively unregulated era of hemp may be coming to a close. The US Farm Bill is up for extension this year, and as a result, a handful of legislators are looking to tighten up the restrictions surrounding the hemp industry, valued as a multi-billion dollar industry.

The 2018 Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30th, 2024, after being extended last year by President Joe Biden. The proposed amendment, brought about by representative Mary Miller, would change “the definition of hemp in the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to only include naturally occurring, naturally derived, and non-intoxicating cannabinoids.”

The draft Farm Bill proposed by Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson maintains the current federal definition of hemp while addressing “hemp grown for cannabinoid extraction,” providing a favorable framework for the hemp industry. However, Mary Miller’s amendment drastically changes this landscape. By excluding hemp-derived products that contain cannabinoids synthesized outside the plant or those mimicking THC’s effects, the amendment could ban 90-95% of hemp products, including many non-intoxicating CBD products.

More or less, it would kill the sale of any products containing intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoids, synthetic or not. It would also make it harder for cannabis cultivators, seed companies, and breeders to sell flowers or ship seeds over state lines, which was a loophole created by 2018’s version. 

The amendment also calls out that hemp products could only contain “components of the Cannabis sativa L. plant and all derivatives and seeds that include less than 0.3% total THC (including THCA) on a dry-weight basis.” Ultimately, it’s bad news for hemp dispensaries across the country making a living on this legal loophole. 

Mary Miller wrote, “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!” in a tweet

 

Why redefine Hemp?

The hemp industry has had its share of concerns since 2018 and hasn’t been stopped before. The DEA, for example, has worked towards banning some of the synthetic cannabinoids that came about as a result of the relaxed language of the original bill, which only put a cap on a maximum of 0.03% delta-9 THC by dry weight.

Since it wasn’t organized like a state-run cannabis industry, there were a lot of concerns about the packaging and labeling of these products. For example, most states require that cannabinoid-infused edibles need to be clearly labeled and marked with the THC label in childproof packaging. It just isn’t like that in the hemp industry, and there have always been concerns about these products falling into the wrong hands. 

But many attacks on the hemp bill have been fruitless. It seems like the government wants to crack down on some of the lax regulations, but the problem is they can’t find a way to do it without putting tens of thousands of Americans out of work. The hemp industry touches many different sectors, including farming, textiles, biofuels, retail, concentrate, and edible manufacturing, and so much more. Indigenous communities rely on the hemp industry for their sovereign economies. 

At many hemp shops around the country, you can buy full-strength edibles rich in THC in states where a legal high isn’t even possible, highlighting that the hemp industry is, in fact, serving an untapped market. Since no other cannabinoids were really called out directly, all sorts of synthetic cannabinoids developed from CBD have come to light, including delta-8 THC, HHC, THC-P, and a ton of others. Under the amendment, THC-A flower would also be banned. 

A lot of people want to ban hemp-derived cannabinoids since we really have no idea what the long-term safety or efficacy of these compounds are. As a result, several states have had to pass legislation on their own to have them banned entirely. But in the states that do have them, people are enjoying a perfectly legal high, albeit unnatural. 

It begs the question, is this on the table because hemp highs are actually bad for people or because the states want to make way for big marijuana? Big tobacco is already betting on big marijuana. The company that owns Marlboro put $1.8 billion into cannabis last year, and as opposers of the bill have mentioned, this hard crackdown feels like sanctions placed on one industry in favor of another. 

U.S. Hemp Roundtable General Counsel Jonathan Miller released a press release to discuss some of the possible ramifications of the amendment. “By federally banning all ingestible hemp products with any quantifiable level of THC, the Mary Miller Amendment would result in federal prohibition of 90-95% of all hemp products on the market, even a large majority of popular, non-intoxicating CBD products that naturally contain trace, non-intoxicating amounts of THC in them.” 

He went on to say that “the redefinition of hemp to include a calculation of THCA would wreak havoc in the fiber and grain markets. While we have for years strongly supported efforts to regulate hemp and CBD – even testifying to that effect before Congress – the Mary Miller amendment throws the baby out with the bathwater, devastating a vibrant industry, killing tens of thousands of agriculture and retail jobs, and denying access to popular products that Americans count on for their health and wellness.” 

Views on the mary miller amendment

2024’s version of the Farm Bill is called The Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024, and it’s expected to be reviewed by the House Agriculture Committee during a hearing on May 23rd. For obvious reasons, there are a lot of voices opposing it entirely. 

“We urge members of Congress to vote ‘NO’ on the Mary Miller amendment, a cynical effort that places government in the role of choosing winners and losers – killing one industry at the behest of its rivals,” Johnathan said. 

However, it does have quite a few supporters with deep pockets. The US Cannabis Council (USCC), made up of several large multi-state operators (MSOs) in the cannabis industry, supports the Mary Miller amendment. Under the guise of encouraging product safety and creating a fairer market, it feels more like these MSOs want to eliminate their biggest competitor: hemp. 

Alternatively, the USCC believes that shutting down the loophole would equalize cannabis and hemp, making it easier to set up federal cannabis legalization whenever it comes. But that seems a lot like counting chickens before they hatch. Setting the stage by forcibly regulating hemp would definitely give the cannabis industry a leg up come legalization, but it would absolutely devastate the hemp industry in the meantime. 

That’s not to say it might not be beneficial at all, though. Obviously, stricter regulations would be helpful in a lot of ways. There’s a rampant lack of testing regulations and an influx of synthetic cannabinoids in these hemp shops, which may have unforeseen consequences for the consumer. Regulating the industry could mean hemp products are safer, more regulated, and free from potentially harmful synthetic chemicals or other impurities. 

Banning products with intoxicating effects could also reduce the risk of these substances being marketed to and consumed by minors. While you do have to be 21 or older in most places to buy things from hemp dispensaries, they’re pretty accessible, and most aren’t sold in childproof containers— putting kids at risk. Finally, it could have the intended effect of leveling the playing field and making the market more competitive and transparent. 

On the other hand, the hemp industry could face severe economic consequences, with many businesses shutting down and significant job losses. In states with restrictive marijuana laws, patients may lose access to legal alternatives, leading to increased black market activity. Local economies in states reliant on hemp-derived products could suffer as consumers seek alternatives elsewhere.

Playing devil’s advocate, it’s clear that while tightening regulations on synthetic cannabinoids may protect public health, it also risks dismantling an industry that serves as a crucial legal alternative in many states and an economic backbone across the country. 

It’s crucial to look at all the factors at play on big issues like this one. There are so many competing interests aiming to revise the 1.5 trillion-dollar Farm Bill, and many of them aren’t even involved with cannabis or hemp. As written, the SNAP program would lose $30 billion in funding, as would other agricultural interests being subsidized. Then there’s hemp and cannabis, who either want to keep the status quo or start regulating hemp like marijuana.  

For now, though, it’s not very likely that any version of the Farm Bill will be passed this year. We’re dealing with a very divided Congress and severe opposition from both sides of the fence. As Miller pointed out, “This Farm Bill is on life support as it is,” making it unlikely to pass amidst all of the partisan squabbling going on. Thursday’s markup hearing will hopefully shed some light on the future of cannabis and hemp in the US.

1 thought on “2024 Farm Bill Amendment Threatens to Derail The Hemp Industry”

  1. Avatar of Joy Siegner

    The Mary miller amendment is no good. Would hurt so many people and the industry put the efforts on gun control

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