What Does the 2018 Farm Bill Passage Mean for the Future of Cannabis?

Since the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 went into effect, the federal government has consistently conflated hemp with marijuana, when the truth is, hemp is more like Mary Jane’s half-sister, not her identical twin. While they’re both birthed from the same mother, cannabis, hemp and marijuana have distinct properties. Hemp primarily contains cannabidiol (CBD) with very little (less than 0.3 percent) Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana, on the other hand, has anywhere from between 15-40 percent THC, which induces psychoactive effects (or can get the user “high”).

It’s for this reason that hemp has been used primarily for industrial purposes. In fact there are over 50,000 known uses of hemp including the creation of paper, clothing, building materials, biofuel, food products, oils and so much more. Marijuana, on the other hand, has been used more therapeutically or recreationally, and more often than not, smoked (unlike hemp). Still, both contain various mental and physical health benefits if consumed properly.

As Civilized previously reported, President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill on December 20, officially legalizing hemp for the first time in nearly half a century. Under the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, as it's officially called, states can now start to produce hemp and hemp-derived products with supervision by the Department of Agriculture. Hemp farmers will also be eligible to collect crop insurance and access federal water rights.  

Twenty-four hours after Trump signed the bill, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement affirming that hemp and cannabis-derived products with less than 0.3 percent THC are now legal in the United States. Hemp products will now be treated similarly to other FDA-approved products on the market, which is something cannabis advocates have wanted for years:

"In short, we treat products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds as we do any other FDA-regulated products — meaning they're subject to the same authorities and requirements as FDA-regulated products containing any other substance," the statement reads. "Among other things, the FDA requires a cannabis product (hemp-derived or otherwise) that is marketed with a claim of therapeutic benefit, or with any other disease claim, to be approved by the FDA for its intended use before it may be introduced into interstate commerce."

We can now expect to see a boom in CBD products in the United States. According to the Hemp Business Journal, in 2017, U.S. hemp sales reached $820 million, up from $688 million in 2016, with hemp CBD-based and hemp food products making up $327 million of 2017’s total hemp-based product sales. According to industry projections, U.S. CBD sales will climb to $2.1 billion by 2020. (And note that these projections were made before the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, meaning that they are likely to now be even higher.)

Chris Husong - the director of sales and marketing for Elixinol, one of the world’s largest suppliers of CBD-products - also noted that the market will increase now that CBD oil companies can advertise on social media. Additionally, many print, TV, and online media companies that have previously refused to accept money from CBD companies may now change their tune.

“The passage of the bill is expected to see many social media platforms and advertisers adapt their policies,” he told Civilized via email.  

What’s more, the Farm Bill may now also revolutionize the medical community. '

“We’ll see more doctors, universities, and hospitals conducting clinical trials on the effects of hemp-derived CBD oil on treating certain conditions,” Husong wrote. “The education about CBD oil’s impact on wellness can be more widespread, and there’s going to be increased demand for CBD oil for health management.”   

While this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, cannabis policy experts were quick to note that the bill doesn’t mean that all forms of cannabis and marijuana will be legal in the U.S. anytime soon.

“It doesn’t just make hemp legal,” Morgan Fox - media relations director for the

National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) - clarified by phone. “It allows states to submit applications for production, which includes ways to monitor the land and oversee that the product they’re making doesn’t contain [more than 0.3 percent] THC among several other factors. Only once the state plans get approved, does it mean there is an exception to the Controlled Substances Act.”

Nevertheless, it will create the possibility for vibrant state hemp programs, which will be a huge job creator and will supply states with thousands of dollars of additional revenue.

Still, Michael Collins - director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) - isn’t so sure that the 2018 Farm Bill passage will pave the way for marijuana legalization. “Hemp and marijuana have often been on different tracks, and so it doesn’t feel like legalizing hemp makes legalizing marijuana that much easier,” he wrote via email. “That said, there is momentum for marijuana reform at the federal level, and in a short period of time, the issue will be in the same situation as hemp legislation – passing through Congress and heading to the President’s desk.”

Fox, though, believes that the Farm Bill passage offers the federal government a structure — "a uniformed application process" — by which to regulate a longtime illegal substance. "Having this guideline will give the government an idea of how to do something similar for adult use of cannabis on a national level," he said.

In other words, the legalized regulation of hemp, may carve a path for something similar occurring with other forms of cannabis, including marijuana, but it’s unclear how soon — and could likely depend on the economic boost derived from the Farm Bill passage.

In the meantime, we’ll be able to feast on a cornucopia of FDA-approved CBD-products derived from hemp.

“You’ll certainly begin to see a lot more products with hemp derived CBD in the marketplace,” said Gabriel Ettenson - president of Elixinol. “Soon you’ll see ads for CBD and see CBD products on the shelves at major retailers all those products will be hemp derived.”

That doesn’t, however, mean they’re all going to be quality products.

“Hemp in 2019 following the Farm Bill has already been compared by experts as Bitcoin in 2016: There’s going to be a huge rush of brands looking to integrate CBD into their existing product line or launch new CBD oil lines now that industry barriers are alleviated,” Husong explained.

So it’s necessary to do research so as to not get bamboozled by companies selling CBD products that aren’t legitimate. There are three ways in particular to tell if a product is going to be of higher quality.

The first is to determine if the product undergoes third-party testing, where CBD suppliers hire an outside company to perform several tests to certify that the hemp product is free of toxins and provides the claimed benefits. Not all CBD producers perform third-party testing, but the extra step ensures quality and transparency to customers.

The second is to buy products that utilize the full spectrum of CBD oil. Instead of using harsh chemical processes to isolate and extract only the cannabidiol, a full-spectrum extract gently preserves the entirety of components naturally present in hemp.

Lastly it’s helpful to use products made via a clean extraction process using CO2. “While a solvent-free CO2 extraction method is more expensive, it is solvent-free and ensures a highly potent and pure extract. It’s eco-friendly, non-toxic and has environmentally friendly,” Husong explained.

Even without knowing exactly what the Farm Bill passage means for the future of cannabis, it’s clear that it is a huge step forward for cannabis users in the United States.

It’s showing that this reefer madness, which conflated hemp and cannabis, is starting to dissipate,” Fox said. “This is a big sign that we’re moving in that direction.”

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Adrienne, a budtender at the Higher Path Collective in Los Angeles, is used to dealing with customers who might be too high. Whether they come into the dispensary confused about what they want to buy, or they're calling in when they eat too much of an edible, Adrienne knows just what to say to help them calm down. A word of advice: Never eat the whole edible, if you're not sure how it will affect you.

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