Written by Ellen Essman, Senior Research Associate, OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law Program
Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the world of agriculture has been all abuzz about the potential for adding a new crop to the rotation—industrial hemp. (Our post on the hemp provisions in the Farm Bill is available here.) The passage of the bill caused states like Ohio, which did not previously implement hemp pilot projects in 2014, to scramble to introduce state legislation allowing hemp to be grown within their boundaries. What is more, questions have arisen about how hemp and products derived from the plant should be regulated under the federal law.
Ohio continues to tinker with its hemp bill
Ohio’s bill to legalize hemp is currently stalled in the Ohio House of Representatives. Speaker Larry Householder indicated that the House will not vote on the bill until September 2019. The hemp bill was first introduced in the Ohio Senate in February, passed the Senate in March, and advanced to the House floor on June 4. The bill still contains a lot of the same language and provisions from when it was introduced in February, which you can read about in our post here. However, since it was first introduced, numerous additions have been inserted into the language of the bill.
First, the original version of the hemp bill only required a license to cultivate hemp. The version currently on the House floor also requires a license to process hemp into different products. Moreover, the current version of the bill would make licenses for both cultivating and processing hemp valid for three years instead of five years. The new language in the bill also creates a Hemp Marketing Program, which would fall under the same laws and regulations as the grain and soybean marketing programs. Legally cultivated hemp would also be added to the list of agricultural uses permitted under the current agricultural use value (CAUV) for land, which would mean land used to grow hemp would qualify for a lower tax assessment.
The most recent version of the bill also adds many more topics to the list for the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) to promulgate via regulation. The new version tasks ODA with adding conditions for acquiring hemp cultivation licenses, such as experience, and procurement of equipment, facilities, a sufficient amount of land, and financial responsibility requirements. ODA is charged with establishing a compulsory setback distance between hemp cultivation and medical marijuana cultivation, and with including regulatory language banning hemp cultivation or processing licensees from also cultivating or processing marijuana. ODA must also establish requirements for recordkeeping and reporting for licensees. These are just a few of the new regulations ODA is authorized to enact.
The most recent bill, much like the first version, includes overarching prohibitions. The current list of actions banned under the law is as follows:
- No person shall cultivate hemp without a hemp cultivation license issued by ODA;
- No person shall process hemp without a hemp processing license issued by ODA;
- A person who is licensed to cultivate or process hemp shall not violate any provision of the hemp law or regulations;
- A person subject to a corrective action plan issued by ODA shall not fail to comply with the plan;
- No person may transport hemp in violation of the hemp law or rules; and
- Any other requirements or procedures necessary to enforce the law.
The most recent rendition of Ohio’s hemp bill would keep the provisions of the first version of the bill relating to negligent and reckless violations of the law, but new enforcement tools have been added. Finally, the new and improved hemp bill includes an emergency clause, which would make the legislation immediately effective upon its passage in both houses and signature by the governor.
FDA holds a hearing on the safety of CBD products
On May 31, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held public hearing to gather information and scientific data about cannabis products, so that such information can be used for future regulatory oversight by the agency. Industrial hemp is a type of cannabis plant, so the hearing included discussion of hemp and hemp-derived compounds, such as cannabidoil (CBD). In particular, FDA was interested in whether different amounts of cannabis in a product would affect people differently, or cause safety concerns, whether there is any data to show that cannabis is safe in food and dietary supplements, whether there are, or if there need to be, industry standards in the manufacturing of cannabis products to ensure safety and quality, and how marketing and labeling should be used to address potential risks connected to using cannabis products. The hearing did not result in any FDA decisions on cannabis products and their regulation, although it is an indicator that regulations will probably be coming soon. This means that sales of CBD oil and other products made from hemp will have to follow FDA regulations in order to be manufactured and sold. Information on the hearing is available here. As we reported in one of our Ag Law Harvest posts, those people still interested in submitting their comments about cannabis and cannabis compounds to the FDA can do so until July 2.
USDA releases its interpretation on transportation of hemp
In another federal development, on May 28, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a memo addressing the transportation of hemp. The 2018 Farm Bill specified that states can ban hemp production and sales within their boundaries, but states cannot bar legally grown hemp from being transported through their state. Since hemp regulations under the 2018 Farm Bill have not yet been promulgated, technically, there is no hemp that has been legally produced under the new law yet. As a result, law enforcement in several states has continued to arrest people transporting hemp. Furthermore, in at least one decision in Idaho, a court determined that it was illegal to transport hemp. USDA released the memo to explain its disagreement with such interpretations.
In its memo, USDA says that the language decriminalizing hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill was “self-executing,” so it is no longer illegal to possess hemp or THC from hemp. USDA further asserts that hemp grown under pilot programs allowed under the 2014 Farm Bill can be legally transported across state lines because the 2018 Farm Bill did not immediately repeal the pilot programs. USDA argues that this means that the hemp grown under 2014 pilot programs is legally produced, can be legally possessed, and therefore can be legally transported across state lines under the new Farm Bill.
It is important to note that USDA’s memo is meant as guidance to the states, and is legally persuasive, but not legally binding. This means a person could theoretically still be arrested for transporting hemp through a state, and the courts may or may not uphold the state’s decision. After the federal regulations under the 2018 Farm Bill are in place, however, there will be less wiggle room for states to carry out their own interpretations, which will likely but an end to this controversy.
What does it all mean?
While the regulation of hemp products, the transportation of hemp, and the legality of hemp in certain states may still be in question, all of this activity means that the state and federal governments are attempting to work all the kinks out. Over time, the rules regarding how to produce, process, sell, and transport hemp, will likely become more defined and clear. In the meantime, those interested in legally growing and processing hemp will have to play a waiting game.