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The 2018 Farm Bill passed in December 2018, ending nearly 100 years of prohibition. With the passing of this bill, the commercial cultivation of hemp and the domestic production of hemp products is now legal in the United States. Furthermore, hemp and hemp-derived CBD have been officially removed from the Controlled Substances Act.

As a result of this huge step forward, the DEA is no longer the primary enforcement agency with respect to hemp. These changes revolutionize how Americans care for their health.

On December 10th, 2018, the 2018 Farm Bill House/Senate Conference Committee released the Conference Report on the new Farm Bill’s passage. The 807-page document contains monumental news for the hemp industry, and for millions of Americans nationwide. Unlike cannabis, hemp is now just another legal agricultural commodity, free from the shackles of the DEA. Donald Trump signed the Farm Bill into law on Dec. 20th.

Hemp Hemp Hurray

“It is difficult to overstate the impact that enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill will have on the hemp/CBD industry and the cannabis industry as a whole,” says Rod Kight, a lawyer specializing in the hemp and cannabis industries.

Kight explains that the industrial hemp pilot programs implemented under the 2014 Farm Act ushered in the hemp and CBD industry as we currently know it. However, it was limited in scope and a “Sword of Damocles” perpetually hung over the industry, as the DEA and state law enforcement agencies often made clear their position that CBD from industrial hemp was a controlled substance.

“The first question I often got from a new client was, ‘What are the odds that I’ll go to jail?’ That concern was quite a barrier to entry,” adds Kight.

In the 2018 Farm Bill, also known as the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (AIA), hemp products are now defined as including “extracts, cannabinoids, and derivatives.” When the now-popular CBD oils were controlled substances, alongside heroin and cocaine, they were treated as a separate category. As for farmers, hemp growers can now apply for crop insurance and competitive grant programs. They can also now access USDA certification.

The DEA can no longer interfere with the interstate commerce of hemp products, which makes it much easier for businesses to access financial, marketing and e-commerce services, as well as ship to customers in other states. While state and tribal governments can enforce their own restrictions, they cannot prevent interstate transport from other areas.

Kight adds:

The rollout of federal and state regulations will have an enormous impact on the hemp and CBD industry. However, no federal regulations have been enacted yet and only one state, Kentucky, has proposed an opt-out regulatory plan, which is limited in the extreme and should be withdrawn. (It has not been approved.)

Essentially, this means that a state can substitute its own regulatory structure for hemp to replace the federal regulatory structure, explains Kight. However, to do so it must propose a regulatory plan to the Feds (specifically, the US Secretary of Agriculture) who will approve or reject it. If it is approved, then the state’s regulatory plan is substituted for the federal regulatory plan in that state.

With respect to the 2018 Farm Bill, there will be federal regulations to govern hemp. They have not been implemented yet. “We’re not even sure if they’ve been drafted,” says Kight.

Mostly, these regulations will govern hemp cultivation (e.g.. licensing, enforcement, etc.).

FDA Moves In On Hemp

The FDA, however, can still regulate hemp products meant for ingestion or topical use. On the day Trump signed the AIA into law, the FDA issued a release stating its intent to enforce the same laws on hemp products as it does for other FDA-regulated products. Companies cannot make therapeutic claims without FDA approval, and the administration still deems it unlawful to sell foods and supplements containing CBD on the interstate market.

This is arguably the biggest issue currently facing CBD.  

Conveniently, the FDA contends that since CBD is the compound at issue in the approved medication Epidiolex (the fake synthetic CBD), it cannot be used as an ingredient in food or marketed as a dietary supplement, explains Kight.  

A very general analogy would be that the FDA would prohibit the use of Ativan, for instance, as a food ingredient since it is an FDA approved drug. Obviously, there are significant differences between CBD and Ativan, but the example is accurate in a general sense, namely, that the FDA does not usually allow the use of approved drugs as ingredients in food. Since CBD is an approved drug, it cannot be used in food.

Meanwhile, foods, beverages, and dietary supplements containing hemp-derived CBD are still subject to the ’Food, Drug & Cosmetic Acts review.’  The Farm Bill makes clear that its provisions do not alter the FDA’s authority under the FDCA. Although the FDA reiterated a position it has held for years that CBD is not a dietary supplement and cannot be added to food, that it intends to hold a meeting of stakeholders to determine the proper regulatory path for CBD given the substantial public interest in it and its potential for medical utility.

With the passage of the Farm Bill, the hemp industry is predicted to grow tremendously. According to the Brightfield Group, it’s anticipated that the CBD market alone could skyrocket to over $20 billion in revenue by 2022. In comparison, the 2018 market earned a relatively small $590 million. Since 2014, the hemp industry has been growing as that year’s Farm Bill permitted state-level legalization, but federal restrictions were still an obstacle for customers and businesses.

What the Farm Bill Means for Families

For families, the new Farm Bill could mean everything. An increasing number of families with seriously ill children had become “CBD oil refugees,” moving interstate to access products such as CBD oil if their hometown prohibited it. One family relocated from Kansas to Oregon to obtain CBD oil for their epileptic child, and calling them “refugees” is by no means trivializing the word. Their other option was to admit their daughter to hospice care and let her pancreas be destroyed by conventional medicine’s anti-seizure drugs.

Another young girl, two-year-old Vivian Wilson, experienced “immense” relief from certain seizure types but cannot return home as she would have to leave her medicine behind Colorado’s state lines.

The story of Haleigh Cox was a similar case: in 2014 she was given just two months to live due to intractable epilepsy. Before she moved to Colorado from Georgia, she suffered an average of 200 seizures per day and spent the majority of her life in a near-comatose state. Taking CBD oil resulted in a significant improvement of her health: she began experiencing only 10-15 seizures on her worst days and began interacting with her parents more, according to an interview conducted approximately one year after she began taking CBD oil. Haleigh was amazed to experience 28 seizure-free days during her first year residing in the legalized state of Colorado. A 2017 article gives us another update: in January of that year, then seven-year-old Haleigh sat up for the first time, went two days straight without a seizure a few weeks later, and uttered her first sentence: “Hi momma.”

Other families have not been so lucky. In 2015, a 10-year-old Florida boy with a neurological disease died while waiting for the treatment of CBD oil because his state struggled to implement the law allowing patients like him to access it. The 2018 Farm Bill means that families will no longer have to fear running out of time while waiting for this medicine. Children like Haleigh and Vivian could find healing before significant damage is inflicted by their disease with a treatment they could access anywhere in the USA.

For America’s Future

Hemp products also carry the potential to reverse a tragic trend seen in recent years: the falling American life expectancy. While rising in almost every country, the US life expectancy fell from 78.7 in 2016 to 78.6 in 2017. This is the third year in a row that it has dropped. The causes of this problem are rising rates of suicide and drug overdose. Suicides have increased by 33 percent since 1999 to 15 suicides per 100,000 people. Drug overdoses are up by 255 percent to 25 per 100,000 people. There were 6,600 more drug overdose deaths in 2017 compared to 2016, which were often related to both prescription and recreational opioids.

It is clear that prescription drugs are killing people by the thousands. Official estimates count over 40,000 opioid overdoses in 2016 alone and roughly 64,000 drug overdoses in total. In 2015, the number of deaths from all prescription drugs was estimated to be 443,900. Some of these fatalities were caused by misuse, but many were the result of the drugs being prescribed and taken correctly.

Conversely, nutritional supplements are associated with zero recorded deaths. The 35th annual report from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, which was just released, shows zero deaths from vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, niacin, pyridoxine (B-6), or from any other B-vitamin, all of which are popular nutritional supplements. There have been no deaths associated with CBD either.

The Many Benefits of CBD Oil

CBD and other phytochemicals in hemp, such as CBG, CBC, and terpenes such as beta-myrcene and D-linalool, can help relieve chronic pain through reducing inflammation and providing a direct analgesic effect. Inflammation directly causes pain, and when it is chronic, leads to tissue damage. Nerve pain — which can be excruciating —  often results from nerve damage, but CBD has neuroprotective properties and can increase levels of the nerve growth factor.

What’s more, CBD can not only help heal the chronic pain that leads to opioid use, but it can also help people to recover from addiction. A small study on heroin addicts compared three days of CBD treatment to a placebo for its effects on cue-induced heroin cravings, general cravings and cue-induced anxiety. The CBD mostly prevented the cravings that would normally be triggered by cues and put a halt to cue-induced anxiety.

One day after their first CBD dose, the participants’ general craving scores dropped approximately seven points, and one week after their last dose, their craving scores were 15 points lower than before treatment.

Population studies have also found that access to medical cannabis can reduce fatalities from opioid overdose, with the death rate dropping approximately 25 percent after two years and 33 percent after five years.  Access to CBD, however, does not guarantee use, and use does not necessarily mean the use of high-quality, non-intoxicating hemp extracts.

The Obstacles That Remain

While the 2018 Farm Bill holds promising improvements for the future health of Americans, there are still some obstacles that must be overcome. First, many still hold negative attitudes towards hemp and cannabinoids, but Kight expects that the stigma surrounding THC, hemp, and cannabinoids will eventually evaporate:

We will see THC products on mainstream supermarket shelves for the first time in almost 100 years. Certainly, 0.3 percent THC is not a lot, but its effect on public awareness and acceptance of cannabis in general will be large. The remaining stigma surrounding cannabis will erode quickly. I believe this will have big implications for cannabis, and will likely speed up wholesale legalization (medical and recreational) nationwide.

Secondly, US politics have been unstable in recent years. Before farmers can grow hemp, they must submit to the Department of Agriculture and pass an FBI background check. Pilot programs and licences for medicinal products also require background checks. Sounds straightforward, right?

Unfortunately, in the event of a government shutdown as we are now experiencing, it is not possible to receive a background check. If a business owner is charged with a drug-related felony because they operated before approval, they cannot be involved in the hemp industry for another 10 years. A new business must wait several months for their first crop to grow, and before they can start making sales, but in the event of a shutdown they must wait even longer to begin profiting.

There may also be consequences for small businesses.

“The 2014 Farm Act fostered an industry mostly controlled by small, private companies that were able to navigate the narrow, winding, and rapidly evolving legal path and could afford to take risks,” says Kight. “In many ways, the hemp/CBD industry under the 2014 Farm Bill was the best of American capitalism: it was full of small, risk tolerant, innovative upstarts.”

Now large, publicly traded companies no longer need to fear persecution, the market will be open to the masses, but many small companies will not be able to compete and Kight expects many consolidations.

Despite the remaining obstacles, the 2018 Farm Bill has the potential to transform America’s health and health-related habits for the better. Hemp has many positive and uses aside from its health benefits, such as its use for building materials and clean plastics. Looking at hemp from a health perspective alone, however, gives us great hope for the future of our nation.

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