State agriculture regulators are increasingly looking at solutions to problems that have arisen for the country’s hemp farmers.
Following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized cannabis plants containing .3% THC or less, also known as hemp, the crop has been a frequent agenda item for state agriculture regulators. And, this week, it was a topic of discussion at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Winter Policy Conference.
With debates forming ahead of the drafting of the 2023 Farm Bill, NASDA regulators have selected 10 policy areas of importance, including hemp, which is among topics like food safety, cyber security, and Specialty Crop Block Grants.
On the note of Specialty Crop Block Grants, NASDA supports the “dual designation for hemp as a specialty crop based on the manner and purpose for which it is grown,” and for the expansion of these grants to farmers growing hemp for “horticultural uses.”
As part of the conference, NASDA released its policy book and a number of policy statements. Among the policy statements, NASDA reiterated its support of hemp growing, processing, and “commercialization.”
NASDA also supports a “clarification in federal law that would specifically allow the production and sale of hemp concentrates as process intermediates so long as hemp-infused products being sold to the public or enter interstate commerce do not exceed federal THC concentration thresholds.”
NASDA “encourages research in all aspects of hemp from crop production to finished products, including hemp infused products,” the statement noted.
One part of the statement noted how a “model” law on hemp could help regulators do their jobs better.
“NASDA supports consistent model legislation to assist state legislatures in their efforts to enact laws permitting hemp production within their jurisdictions in accordance with the 2018 Farm Bill, while also permitting state legislatures to consider the needs and resources of their individual state when structuring their individual state plans,” a statement highlighted.
Testing of hemp — specifically to determine THC content — has proven to be a headache for many hemp farmers and regulators, especially because standards differ from state to state. Cannabis Wire published a Q&A with Bryan Hurlburt, head of Connecticut’s ag department and previous vice chair of a NASDA committee looking at hemp. In that interview, Hurlburt spoke about how many hemp crops failed because they were deemed “hot hemp,” or hemp with too much THC.
“We’re on the cusp of a new program. So, you know, there are challenges with getting good seed. There are challenges with growing methods, there are challenges with testing requirements to make sure that people are testing as frequently as they need to be in order to prevent it,” Hurlburt told Cannabis Wire at the time.
On the topic of testing, NASDA “supports the development of uniform standards for field sampling and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content testing,” according to its policy statement.
One policy area that many members of the cannabis and hemp industries have been eagerly awaiting are the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s regulations for CBD products—for humans and animals, for food and cosmetics, and much more in between. NASDA noted in a policy statement that the group “encourages” the FDA, in “consultations with states, to develop a model regulatory framework for oversight of the processing of hemp and manufacturing of cannabis derived products which will protect public health, comply with federal law, and foster growth in the industry.”
Last September, during a Plant Agriculture & Pesticide Regulation Committee meeting, NASDA members heard from Kay Doyle, director of U.S. Public Policy and Public Affairs for Greenwich Biosciences. Doyle also previously served on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.
Greenwich Biosciences is the United States arm of GW Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes Epidiolex, which is the country’s first cannabis plant-based medicine approved by the U.S. FDA.
When Doyle spoke to state agriculture regulators, she called for a federal regulatory framework that would “encourage” the development of additional FDA-approved cannabinoid drugs, because, Doyle said “we’d like to have some more company in this space,” and for clear differentiation in “cannabinoid content between FDA approved medications and cannabinoid consumer goods.”
“Research into the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids is just beginning. The FDA is at a crossroads,” Doyle said. “They obviously must proceed carefully, especially in the way they regulate consumer goods so that it doesn’t just disincentivize the kind of research we and others would like to do to bring more FDA-approved medications to patients.”