Congress Passed the 2018 Farm Bill, Legalizing Hemp. What’s Next for Cannabis Businesses?
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Congress Passed the 2018 Farm Bill, Legalizing Hemp. What’s Next for Cannabis Businesses?

Industry stakeholders anticipate increased investment into the industry, as well as massive growth in hemp research, cultivation and sales.

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Congress federally legalized hemp with the Dec. 12 passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, opening a market that Brightfield Group estimates will reach $22 billion by 2022.

The $867 billion agriculture law cleared the Senate Dec. 11 with a 87-13 vote before gaining approval in the House Dec. 12 with a 369-47 vote. The bill has been sent to President Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.

The Farm Bill removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and allows farmers to pursue federal hemp cultivation permits, while individual states can regulate the industry within their borders as they see fit. Already, 40 states have established hemp cultivation “pilot programs” for industrial and commercial purposes, although the plant has been strictly regulated.

“This is absolutely world history! What the Congress did … is going to change the future for this industry and the world,” said Dr. Bomi Joseph, founder of Peak Health Center.

Hemp cultivation became illegal in the U.S. in 1937, under provisions in the Marihuana Tax Act, which was drafted by prohibitionist Harry Anslinger. In the intervening eight decades, American culture has steadily warmed to the idea of reviving the agricultural commodity and its many commercial uses.

“With the Farm Bill of 2018 …, the restrictions around growing industrial hemp could be lifted by the end of the year,” said Ari Sherman, president of Evo Hemp. “This bill will also help clarify that resin products derived from hemp, like cannabinoids, will be legal on a federal level. Many people will benefit from this bill, including farmers, manufactures, retailers and consumers. Small family farmers will be able to make a sufficient amount of income off a small amount of land. This bill will open up advertising opportunities for hemp product manufactures. Retailers will be given more freedom in the variety of hemp products that they carry. Last, consumers will be given access to all domestically grown hemp-based products.”

“It is excellent to finally have definitive rules governing the sale of CBD products in the United States,” added Sasha Kadey, CMO of Greenlane. “There are huge demands for these products as many Americans find great benefit in their use. A clear, legal path to bring these products to market with all the appropriate checks and balances that ultimately result in consumer safety is a huge win for consumers, law-abiding businesses and the U.S. Economy.”

The legislation will supersede the recently expired 2014 Farm Bill, which had granted states the ability to create those hemp production pilot programs. The manufacture and sale of hemp-derived CBD, however, was strictly regulated and sometimes left out of states’ medical cannabis market frameworks.

Now, with hemp set to be treated as an agricultural product, the U.S. FDA or state departments of agriculture will provide oversight of the plant’s cultivation. Further along the supply chain, industry observers eagerly anticipate guidance on hemp-derived CBD.

“While the Farm Bill presents exciting opportunities for U.S. agriculture and the hemp industry, it is still unclear what the final status of CBD will be,” said Jordan Friedman, CEO and co-founder of Zodaka, a cannabis payment platform. “[I am] curious to see how the progress of CBD-specific legislation is affected by this milestone.”

In July, the California Department of Public Health issued a state policy prohibiting hemp-derived CBD in food products, which aligned with the FDA’s stance. Policies are now likely to shift, as federal and state regulators embrace hemp legalization—and cannabis companies will have new opportunities, as well.

Hemp is primarily a cheap source of CBD, which has become a hot commodity, and the passage of the Farm Bill ensures that people who farm and create products with CBD are protected from prosecution, Joseph said. “A lot more investment is going to pour in for new food products based on hemp.”

U.S. hemp companies may now be able to list on U.S. stock exchanges, as well, added Khurram Malik, CEO of Biome Grow. Previously, they have been limited to Canadian exchanges when looking to go public.

“It’s a pivotal moment we've been preparing for, and a hallmark in the history of hemp,” said Matt Oscamou, co-founder of Weller, a manufacturer of CBD-infused snacks. “CBD awareness has picked up over the last several months, and the bill answers some of the questions that retailers and consumers have been continuously asking. Ultimately, this legislation gives the market a unique opportunity to grow by decriminalizing hemp and hemp CBD, thus removing a road block to institutional capital.”

The federal legalization of hemp will also undoubtedly attract investors and businesses from outside the U.S.

“We’re hoping that this bill can help us expand our supply chain by looking for hemp farmers in the U.S. for our CBD products to supplement our current hemp imports from Europe,” said Stuart Titus, CEO of Medical Marijuana, Inc. “In the next few years, hemp will once again become the valued commodity it once was just a few generations ago. As a company, we’re utilizing hemp as a source for CBD, but we look forward to the U.S. taking advantage of hemp’s many other industrial uses, such as a source of building and construction materials, material for bio-composite purposes, clean biofuels, as well as a viable source of nutrition.”

More retailers will likely start integrating CBD products into their stores, as well, making them available for consumers who have been eager to try CBD, but who may not have been educated on the products or able to find a trusted brand.

“The Farm Bill is just the first step, but it's undoubtedly a big one,” Oscamou added. “We're looking forward to leading the way with true innovation in this emerging category, utilizing FDA-compliant processes to ensure consumers know exactly what they're getting every time their daily stresses rear up.”

Hemp legalization will also lend support to what is already becoming a multi-billion-dollar American agriculture industry, according to Bruce Perlowin, CEO of Hemp, Inc., a U.S.-based hemp cultivator.

“As an example, we project that a massive back-to-the land movement will be in full force by mid-summer of 2019 … because the back-to-the land population will now have a solid economic basis in industrial hemp to rely on,” Perlowin said. “This will be an incredible boon for the American small family farm. Our strategy has been to partner with farmers across the country in states where hemp cultivation and manufacturing is legal, to provide them with the infrastructure needed to make a profit off this incredible crop.”

“While how long it has taken is disappointing, it is exciting to see hemp back in the fold as a main cash crop opportunity for American farmers,” added Jeffrey M. Zucker, co-founder and president of Green Lion Partners. “Hemp is an environmentally friendly, sustainable resource that is incredibly versatile. In addition to this being a win for farmers, it is a boon for Americans as a whole to receive expanded access to hemp products.”

And cultivating hemp can also help eliminate contaminants in the soil, Joseph added.

“Hemp is very useful for ‘phyto-remediation,’” he said. “Hemp has the highest ability to ‘bioaccumulate’ and degrade harmful contaminants in soil, water and air. Toxic heavy metals and organic pollutants are great targets for hemp phyto-remediation … Hemp will absorb [pollutants] voraciously, neutralize them and break them down into harmless components. This is a very exciting environmental benefit to hemp cultivation that is hardly mentioned.”

Hemp research will likely also ramp up as restrictions on the plant are loosened.

“The health and wellness industries are in for a major overhaul with the massive research and development and exploration into CBD, CBG, CBN and 113 other cannabinoids, as well as some 300 terpenes found in the industrial hemp plant,” Perlowin said.

“Hemp is incredibly versatile, and for so long it’s had a bad reputation because of the stigma around marijuana,” added Derek Riedle, publisher of Civilized. “For decades, the government hasn’t been able to distinguish between the two plants—it’s like having a twin brother who breaks the rules, but you get in trouble, too. Now that the realities of cannabis are coming to light, we will finally be able to unleash the full potential of hemp here in the U.S.”

And with a federally legal industrial hemp industry across the U.S., the passage of the Farm Bill could also represent a step toward the federal legalization of marijuana, according to Dan Anglin, DEO of CannAmerica.

“This news is substantial for all of America’s hemp and CBD companies, and as a veteran of the more complicated THC-marijuana industry, I’m encouraged about what this could mean for the federal future of marijuana and cannabis products in the U.S.A."