Editor’s Notebook: Why slow-moving hemp regulations are still great for cannabis

(This is an abridged version of a column that appears in the May-June issue of Marijuana Business Magazine.)

The hemp industry is changing fast. The federal government, not so much.

The entire cannabis industry celebrated last December, when hemp was removed from the Controlled Substances Act in the 2018 Farm Bill.

All of a sudden, the obstacles of doing business with a quasi-legal plan appeared to vanish. Hemp entrepreneurs won access to all the federal benefits available to other agriculture commodities: crop insurance, intellectual-property protection, tax deductions, the list goes on.

Even better, the headaches that come with doing business in the black market seemed to be problems of the past. No more CBD products taken off shelves.

No more gymnastics to get and keep a banking account. No more dreaded 280E tax code.

So, the hemp industry entered 2019 in a giddy mood. After decades of talking up hemp’s benefits, cannabis activists succeeded in making it legal, setting the stage for eventual federal marijuana legalization. Finally!

And then, not much happened.

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is still working on hemp regulations that would take months, maybe until the 2020 planting season.
  • Hours after the bill became law, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said CBD still can’t go in foods or dietary supplements. Almost as soon as the FDA said it would take another look at CBD, agency Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb abruptly resigned, leaving the review for successors.
  • Agronomists now say that insurance companies likely won’t cover hemp crops for years, until average yields become better understood.

Signs of hope

Doubtless there will be more regulatory delays ahead. I’m guessing it will be years before the dream of full hemp legalization is fulfilled.

But hemp is doing just what activists always believed it could: pave the way for larger cannabis reform by opening the public’s eyes to the plant’s huge potential.

So, don’t let the slow-moving federal government make you pine for the days when hemp companies had to operate under a patchwork of state laws.

State governments move more quickly than the feds. But consider this annoying federal lag time an opportunity to resolve issues before the nation turns to the thornier problem of legalizing all varieties of cannabis sativa, including high-THC marijuana.

Kristen Nichols can be reached at [email protected]

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