Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Hemp industry, once booming, now on a downward trend as federal government drags feet on regulations

The hemp boom could go bust, despite the early efforts of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to champion it, Mona Zhang and Paul Demko report for Politico.

After the 2018 Farm Bill legalized widespread hemp cultivation, largely thanks to the Kentucky senator, farmers and manufacturers rushed to get in on the ground floor of the industry, leading to oversupply and low wholesale prices. But patchwork local, state and federal laws have left producers, processors and consumers confused about the legality of hemp and left the door open to snake-oil peddlers who tout hemp-derived CBD as a cure-all without evidence. "All of those factors are hurting the very farmers hemp legalization was supposed to help," Zhang and Demko report.

Meanwhile, a slew of cannabis companies have declared bankruptcy over the past year, including two in McConnell's home state. "Many CBD producers, especially in Kentucky, seemed to be counting on McConnell's influence and FDA regulation," Zhang and Demko report. But McConnell "seems to be missing from the debate in recent months as they clamor for regulatory clarity that could help stave off the economic downturn for the industry."

House Agriculture Committee chair Collin Peterson, D-Minn., introduced a bill in January that would make the FDA regulate CBD products as if they were dietary supplements, "but the chances for such legislation are close to zero in the middle of the public-health crisis," Zhang and Demko report. "Hemp advocates are focused on inserting similar language in a coronavirus package, arguing that it could help boost an industry without additional costs to the federal government." Hemp is not eligible for the $16 billion direct-payment fund for farmers hurt by the pandemic.

Farmers and processors told Politico that it would be unfortunate if quibbles over CBD regulation tanked the hemp industry, since not all hemp is grown for CBD, and the plant has many other uses.

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