House farm bill includes amendment to halt national cannabis legalization

Intoxicating hemp products have been included in the House version of the farm bill, signaling a ban on their usage.

If the amendment successfully passes through a polarized House and a divided Congress, it would bring an end to America’s short-lived venture into nationally legalized cannabis.

Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.) has introduced new language in the House version of the farm bill that effectively rolls back a significant legal change enacted by an all-Republican coalition in the 2018 farm bill.

The previous bill significantly simplified the process for American farmers to cultivate nonintoxicating varieties of cannabis, referred to as “hemp” in the statute, for both industrial and medical purposes.

According to The Hill, the vague language of the law and the similarity between intoxicating and non-intoxicating varieties of cannabis have led to the emergence of a flourishing market for cannabis products that are widely accessible and largely unregulated. This is reminiscent of a time in American history known as the Gilded Age.

A coalition of 22 state attorneys general wrote a letter to Congress in March, urging members to address the ambiguity caused by the 2018 Farm Bill. They highlighted the rapid growth of a gray market, estimated to be worth around $28 billion, which has emerged as a result. The attorneys general called for decisive action to bring an end to this phenomenon.

The attorneys presented their argument against the 2018 law, stating that it imposed the inclusion of “cannabis-equivalent products” into economies, irrespective of states’ intentions to legalize cannabis use. They further emphasized that this law posed a significant threat to the existing regulations and consumer protections in states that already had legal adult-use cannabis programs in place.

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Miller’s amendment, co-sponsored by Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), who hails from a state where marijuana is legal, places limitations on the definition of legal hemp. The amendment restricts legal hemp to cannabinoids that are naturally occurring, naturally derived, and non-intoxicating.

It is highly likely that cannabinoids such as delta-8 THC, which are naturally occurring but typically chemically derived and known for their intoxicating effects, would not be allowed.

Intoxicating drinks and edibles that contain delta-9 THC or THCa, which are essentially the same active chemical found in regulated “marijuana” products in states like California, would also be affected.

Miller expressed her pride in her amendment being included to address the issue of drug-infused THC products like Delta-8 being sold to teenagers in packaging that resembles candy.

In contrast, the hemp sector, a thriving $28 billion industry that views the amendment as a serious threat to its existence, responded strongly on Friday.

The Hemp Roundtable has called on all Representatives to vote against the Farm Bill unless the Mary Miller Amendment is removed. They strongly criticize the language, referring to it as “hemp industry-killing.”

The National Cannabis Industry Trade Group, which represents both industries, expressed a more cautious stance.

Aaron Smith, the co-founder, is advocating for the implementation of sensible federal regulations that can be applied equally to both hemp- and marijuana-derived cannabinoid products.

Congress last year discussed the issue of dealing with the abundance of cannabinoids that are considered legal, as mentioned in the attempted farm bill. However, due to significant divisions within Congress and the confusion surrounding the election of House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), any efforts to address the matter were rendered irrelevant.

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The potential crackdown on hemp in the farm bill unites a diverse group of allies.

Marijuana farmers in states like California and Nevada, where recreational markets are tightly regulated, are among the most vocal advocates for cracking down on intoxicating hemp. This competing product is often virtually indistinguishable from their own, but lacks any form of regulation.

The lack of regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has contributed to the perception that hemp products are unsafe.

The fate of the amendment, however, remains uncertain as it still needs to pass the House. Only then will its impact on the flourishing hemp market be realized.

The reforms to food aid that Democrats and a wide array of civil society groups see as cuts would also need to pass through the Senate, requiring both sides to find a way through.

The Senate has reauthorized the hemp program in its version of the farm bill, maintaining the same definition.

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