On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted 87-13 to pass the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, better known as the Farm Bill. The massive legislation is the primary agriculture and food policy tool of the federal government, dealing with trade, rural development, farm subsidies, conservation, research, food and nutrition programs and much more. The components of the 2018 Farm Bill address changes to the federal food aid program SNAP, forestry and conservation, crop insurance and measures aimed to help farmers hurting from Trump’s trade war with China. This year’s farm bill also includes far-reaching provisions that lift the ban on hemp, authorize hemp production and research and amend the Controlled Substances Act. And if the House votes to pass the bill and Trump signs it, the U.S. government will have lifted its long-standing prohibition on commercial hemp.
2018 Farm Bill Clears Congress, Paving Way for Legal Hemp
Renewed roughly every half-decade, the Farm Bill is traditionally a highly controversial piece of legislation. The 2018 Farm Bill was no different, prompting such intense debate that Congress failed to pass it before the previous bill expired on September 30. Among the major points of contestation was the issue of requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP is a federal food aid program, aka “food stamps,” that more than 40 million Americans—12 percent of the population—rely on. Republicans in Congress and President Trump had pushed for stricter requirements for food stamp recipients. But after Democrats regained control of the House in midterm elections, Republicans had to walk back their more radical proposals.
One component of the Farm Bill that faced virtually no opposition, however, was Sen. Mitch McConnell‘s (R-Ky.) proposals to legalize industrial hemp. McConnell had already added some hemp-related provisions to the 2014 farm bill that led to 35 states establishing hemp cultivation industries. But the 2018 version of the bill goes even further.
If It Passes, 2018 Farm Bill Will Transform U.S. Hemp Industry
In the first place, the 2018 Farm Bill would authorize hemp as a supplemental and alternative crop. It would allow federal agencies to assess the economic viability of hemp’s production and sale. And it would authorize federal agriculture research into hemp cultivation and production. With 35 U.S. states having already legalized commercial hemp, the 2018 Farm Bill would permit interstate commerce and resolve legal questions about the legality of hemp-based products.
Furthermore, the 2018 Farm Bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Since 1970, the CSA has listed hemp along with heroin and methamphetamine as a Schedule I controlled substance. If it passes, the farm bill would alter the CSA for the first time, exempting the entire hemp plant and all of its derivates from the Schedule I designation. To do this, the bill changes the definition of hemp to include any of its extracts, seeds, acids, salts and isomers that do not exceed 0.3 percent THC by dry weight.
Additionally, the 2018 Farm Bill gives states control over regulating hemp cultivation. And it gives hemp farmers access to federal crop insurance for the first time. These changes stand to transform the U.S. hemp industry. States that have already established industries would no longer have to worry about federal enforcement actions. And more farmers would have access the the safety-net needed to securely invest in hemp cultivation.
2018 Farm Bill Could Lead to Federally Regulated Cannabidiol Products
Furthermore, the bill would catalyze the already booming hemp-derived CBD market. Analysts expect the total CBD industry in the U.S. to top $22 billion over the next four years. Hemp is an excellent source of cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive cannabinoid at the center of many medical cannabis treatments. Thus, if the farm bill passes, the U.S. could see the FDA start to evaluate hemp-derived products, including CBD. In other words, the 2018 Farm Bill would open a path for the federal approval and regulation of CBD products for medicinal and therapeutic use.
The lame-duck House will vote on the 2018 Farm Bill today. If it clears the House, the bill will head to President Trump for signing or veto.