Hemp Is Now Legal: What That Really Means + How It Affects the CBD Trend
From the yoga studio to the corner bodega, the influx of CBD products on the market has surged over the last couple of years, its numerous benefits—everything from alleviating anxiety and eczema to helping your beloved pup with his seizures—being touted. But CBD, or cannabidiol—a non-psychoactive compound of the hemp plant—is still widely misunderstood, and often confused with marijuana.
At the end of 2018, Congress sought to shift the public’s awareness and to support hemp farmers by passing the 2018 Farm Bill, legalizing hemp on the federal level. We caught up with a two experts in the CBD field to get the lowdown on what it all means—and what you can expect from your favorite CBD products now that hemp is legal.
What is the 2018 Farm Bill + Why Is It a Big Deal?
The 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law with a provision to legalize hemp. By law, hemp is defined as the cannabis plant—the same plant that produces marijuana and CBD—but the percentage of THC (the chemical compound in marijuana that makes someone feel high) in hemp cannot exceed 0.3 percent.
Federal law for decades did not recognize hemp as separate from other cannabis plants. That made it illegal to grow, buy or sell hemp under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970, as well as to study any effects or benefits hemp had on those who used it (or its cannabidiol). And the uses for hemp were myriad: From super soft textiles to vegan hemp “milk,” hemp—also referred to as “industrial hemp”—has been revered for decades as a sustainable option for clothing and rugs.
Now, with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, farmers who grow hemp are free to do so without fear of federal prosecution. But, like any major policy shift, the 2018 Farm Bill has restrictions—and they are formidable.
Hemp Is Legal…With Restrictions
With the passing of the Farm Bill, hemp cultivation is now legal in the broadest sense it’s ever been legal—but it’s hardly a growing free-for-all. Any hemp plant tested, for instance, cannot exceed more than 0.3 percent THC, or it will be classified as “non-hemp cannabis,” which translates to “marijuana”—and that means anyone growing non-hemp cannabis is not protected by the Farm Bill legislation. Under federal law, marijuana is still a Schedule 1 substance—along with heroin, ecstasy and LSD—and farmers growing it can be prosecuted.
Hemp production will also be heavily regulated by the USDA and state departments of agriculture. If a state applies to to license and regulate hemp, they must submit a plan to the secretary of the USDA and await approval. Together, the state and federal branches will devise regulatory programs that oversee hemp growers.
This will put pressure on growers of hemp-based CBD products, to be sure, but for those who work with CBD products for a living, that’s not necessarily a negative. “I think it definitely increases the pressure for approval and licensing, but across the board, I believe this is what we need to have a legitimate industry,” says Alexis Rosenbaum, founder of Oregon-based Rosebud CBD. “First and foremost, it’s important to protect the consumer and make sure they are using high quality, lab-tested, safe products.”
Alexis continues, saying, “Though regulatory agencies come with a lot of bureaucracy and work, their ultimate goal is aligned with ours: to protect the consumer.” That protection ultimately means having access to quality and safety, and that, says Alexis, is imperative.
The Benefits of the Farm Bill
Even with the restrictions imposed on the federal and state levels, however, the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill is seen as something to celebrate by those who work closely with CBD products.
“The 2018 Farm Bill opens up opportunities for hemp growers and manufacturers and awareness amongst the general public,” says Emily Kanter, co-owner of Cambridge Naturals, a purveyor of CBD products in Massachusetts. “For the last several years, we have continually been asked the questions, ‘Is this marijuana?’ and ‘Is this legal?’ The most recent Farm Bill, while restrictive, makes agricultural hemp (with less than 0.3 percent THC) officially ‘legal’ and helps retailers like us to tell the story of hemp-based CBD products. It also encourages further research into the many uses of hemp. We’re also starting to see the first USDA-certified organic CBDs on the market.”
For Alexis, the benefits of the new legislation extend well beyond her own business. “I’m excited about the opportunity this brings to rural farming communities across the country,” she shares. “America has a strong agricultural heritage and I believe that hemp legalization will usher in a new era—one that will hopefully offer a boost to rural economies, while also providing a more sustainable industrial resource that can be used in hundreds of applications from textiles to bioplastics to building materials.”
Spreading the Truth About Legal Hemp and CBD
Now that hemp is legal, the CBD derived from these plants will continue to fuel a burgeoning industry—and that, say Alexis and Emily, is where customers need to take their education into their own hands.
“Customer education is a top priority right now,” Alexis says. “There are dozens of CBD brands popping up across the country and many of them have contaminated products. Our friends over at Remedy Review have taken it upon themselves to execute independent, third-party testing. Sadly, many samples they’ve tested have come back with pesticides, microbial contamination and more.”
Alexis adds, “While these contaminants can be harmful to the average person, they can be devastating for someone who has a severe condition, for instance, a compromised immune system. The more customers understand how to shop for CBD and what to look for, the safer they can self-medicate and actually benefit from the therapeutic properties of CBD.”
Buying from a trusted retailer who can help educate consumers about CBD and how it’s sourced will be crucial as the market continues to overflow with CBD-related products.
“The CBD market is already completely flooded and it makes it very confusing for consumers,” Emily concedes. “We get around 50 to 100 CBD vendor applications every month, and many of them are either absurdly expensive for the dosage, or contain terrible filler ingredients.”
Emily continues, “We’re also seeing a lot of ‘trendy’ CBD products that are little more than attractive branding. In our vetting process, we look out for CBD that is derived from sustainably cultivated hemp (and require our vendors to share their sources and Certificates of Analysis), and combined with the highest quality ingredients to make efficacious products at reasonable prices.”
Buyer, Beware + Be Educated
The passage of the Farm Bill will no doubt help regulate the industry and ensure hemp products meet the strict criteria imposed by federal and state governments. Still, the onus remains on consumers to do their due diligence to ensure their hemp-derived CBD products are safe and meet the highest standards.
For responsible CBD makers and sellers, helping consumers educate themselves on what’s what is a top priority. “Consumers will start to see CBD everywhere,” says Emily. “Literally, at the gas station. Not every CBD brand or product is created equal, so read ingredient labels, do your own research and ask your trusted retailer many questions!”
Alexis agrees. She implores consumers to be wary when buying CBD products, even as the Farm Bill makes hemp legal and subject to regulation. There will always be companies looking to cash in on a trend, and right now, CBD is at the top of the list.
“Testing, testing, testing!” Alexis reminds us. “Hemp-derived CBD is now federally legal, but always do your due diligence as a consumer to make sure you are purchasing from a quality-minded brand. Just because cannabidiol is now legal doesn’t mean that it is being manufactured responsibly.”
And, Alexis cautions, “Not all CBD products are legal. CBD with higher than 0.3 percent THC content remains federally illegal.”
Though industrial hemp was legalized by the federal government, she adds, different states have varying regulations. “Make sure you know what your state allows regarding CBD consumption.”
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