One year after Congress legalized industrial hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill, lawmakers are pushing the Food and Drug Administration to finalize rules for classifying and regulating products containing hemp-derived cannabidiol, or CBD.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — a major backer of industrial hemp in his home state of Kentucky — wants the FDA to back off enforcement against CBD companies until the agency finishes outlining regulations for products infused with the compound.
McConnell introduced language in the latest Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill that would require the FDA to temporarily adopt an “enforcement discretion” policy for CBD — meaning it would not take enforcement action against companies that put CBD in food or sell it as a dietary supplement.
The FDA would, however, continue to take enforcement action against companies that make specific health claims about CBD products.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the $23.1 billion agriculture spending bill on Sept. 19. It now heads to the Senate floor for debate.
If approved, the FDA would have 120 days to adopt an enforcement discretion policy. The agency would also have to provide Congress with an update of its progress after 90 days.
Proponents claim CBD from hemp has numerous health and nutritional benefits, including treatment for anxiety, depression and pain relief. The FDA is responsible for regulating the sale of CBD products, determining if they will be treated as medicine or a dietary supplement.
Hemp itself is a cannabis plant, similar to marijuana except it contains just 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component that gets users high.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has said the FDA is dragging its feet on setting up regulations. The bill will help Oregon’s hemp industry continue to create jobs, he said, and put an end to regulatory uncertainty.
“Once passed, this language will again show that congress is serious about the FDA doing its job,” Wyden said.
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, the top Democrat serving on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, said he secured $2 million in the spending bill for research and market analysis to “appropriately regulate” CBD.
CBD is projected to be a billion-dollar industry for Oregon in 2019, Merkley said during a conference call with reporters. The Nielsen market research firm predicts sales of CBD across the U.S. could reach $6 billion by 2025.
“That would be an extraordinary flow of additional revenue into our agricultural communities,” Merkley said.
The agriculture appropriations bill includes another $2.5 million for hemp innovation research. Oregon State University established the Global Hemp Innovation Center in June, combining more than 40 faculty across 19 academic disciplines researching all aspects of hemp — from cultivation to food and product testing.
While CBD currently dominates the hemp market, it can also be used to make products like rope, clothing and “hempcrete,” a type of construction material combining hemp and lime.
Other provisions in the appropriations bill include:
• $5 million for OSU and other West Coast universities to study the effects of wildfire smoke on crops, specifically winegrapes. A California winery rejected 2,000 tons of grapes from Southern Oregon growers just before harvest in 2018 due to concerns about smoke taint, worth an estimated $4 million.
• $120 million funding increase for the USDA Agricultural Research Service.
• $17.5 million for a Value-Added Producer Grant Program, emphasizing the organic hazelnut industry.
• $3.5 million for the USDA Advanced Wood Products Program, which focuses on mass timber products.
Merkley said he is optimistic the bipartisan agriculture appropriations bill will be taken up on the Senate floor “very soon.”
“I made sure this bill makes Oregon’s priorities our national priorities,” Merkley said. “These investments will help Oregonians in every part of the state sell more, reduce costs, develop new products and strengthen our communities.”