Things have changed pretty drastically in the world of cannabis, hemp and CBD in the last few years. As we are seeing more and more research into the benefits of the cannabis plant for our health, the economy and the world in general, we are seeing a gradual loosening of the ties which cannabis has been previously bound.

The Farm Bill, which finally came into force in the USA at the end of last year, has played a major part in pushing hemp forward both practically, legally and in people’s attitudes to it. It is having an important impact on a number of factors such as environmentally friendly materials, the sale and availability of CBD products, the lives of farmers and the US economy as a whole.

What is Hemp?

Hemp is a variety of cannabis which has a number of characteristics which can be useful to people. It is a hardy plant which has traditionally be used to make materials such as paper, fabric, building materials and even biofuel. Imagine what more research into its uses could throw up…

One of the other properties of hemp (which has now been stipulated by the Farm Bill to be a requirement of the definition of ‘hemp’) is that it must have levels of THC of below 0.3%.

In the cannabis plant, there are over 100 compounds which are naturally present. The two most significant and best understood of which, are CBD and THC. Significantly for us, these compounds – or cannabinoids can have an impact on the human body when they are taken – boosting our general well-being as well as potentially having other health benefits.

Due to the legal situation of cannabis, we are really only seeing serious amounts of scientific research into these in very recent years. You can find out more about CBD here.

CBD and THC are very similar – almost exactly the same in fact. However, due to one small difference in their molecular formation, they can each have quite a different effect on our bodies. Whilst they both can have significant health benefits to the human body, THC can make you high, whereas CBD won’t.

This is one of the reasons why laws are changing around the world, with many places making CBD legal and therefore more available to people, whilst keeping high levels of THC illegal – although it is worth noting that in some places CBD is still illegal, and in others THC (or recreational use of marijuana) is legal.

What is the Farm Bill?

The Agriculture Improvement Act 2018 – an act which is better known as the Farm Bill was officially signed off by President Trump on 20th December 2018. It is an act that was to significantly affect a number of agricultural issues, but arguably, most significantly, the world of hemp and its derivatives.

After years of being stigmatised and feared due to the fact that hemp and other strands of the cannabis plant (such as high THC marijuana) had been lumped together and classified as a ‘Controlled Substance’, the Farm Bill has now defined a distinction between hemp and other varieties of cannabis, taking hemp out of that category. This means that instead of being classified as a ‘drug’ and placed under the jurisdiction of the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency), it is now classified as being a ‘crop’ and is regulated by the US Department of Agriculture.

In the bill of 2014, we saw the foundations being laid for this step forward. A series of hemp pilot programs were authorised, whereby small amounts of industrial hemp were allowed to be cultivated without any license from the DEA.

The passing of the Farm Bill 2018 meant that hemp is now seen as a crop and not a drug – an important distinction both for the law and to help in breaking down taboos. It means that hemp farmers are able to be insured and get support and protection from the government, as well as be traded like any other crop.

Importantly, it can also mean that it is easier to carry out valuable research to enable us to understand better about how hemp can change our lives.

The Farm Bill and CBD

This may all sound like exciting news – and it is – except that things aren’t so straight forward for CBD. Although the changes in the legality of hemp in the Farm Bill 2018 covers products made from hemp, the DEA at the moment has still classified CBD as illegal, and it hasn’t clarified whether this is going to change. In addition, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has still got it classified as a drug, meaning that in order for companies to put it into supplements or food, a producer must have their approval.

The FDA has, however, stated that they are keen to find a ‘regulatory framework’ to allow CBD products to be made and sold, acknowledging the potential that CBD products have both for customers and producers.

This means that CBD will still be illegal, federally, but under Section 12619, the Farm Bill states that as long as the production of cannabinoids is within the federal and state regulations (as well as other regulations) it can be legal. There are, of course, also separate laws with regards to legal and licensed medications such as Epidiolex.

The Implications of Legalising Hemp

This is where it gets really exciting. There are a number of implications to the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill and legalising hemp – not just for farmers and not just for CBD fans.

  •         Options for farmers – Hemp can be a valuable crop for crop rotation. It needs much less water compared to other common crops like corn and soya, doesn’t need particularly good soil and can grow in close proximity to itself – crowding out weeds. Hemp also aerates the soil, meaning that it is a serious option for farmers.
  •         Better research – The easier it is to get hold of hemp legally, the easier it will become to carry out research into hemp’s compounds and the plant as a whole. Whether it is about the medicinal benefits to its cannabinoids or its viability as a biofuel, the more research that can be done, the better.
  •         The US economy – The US tobacco farmers have suffered over the past few years with the decline in demand for tobacco, and with the Trump trade wars which are going on at the moment, US wheat, corn and soya bean farmers have been significantly affected. This has all been very damaging for the US economy. By giving farmers the option of hemp cultivation and increasing the amount of hemp that is produced – for whatever reason – and potentially exported, the legalisation of hemp could prove to be extremely beneficial to farmers and the US economy.
  •         Farmer protection – Farmers who produce hemp now have the same government protection and insurance as those who produce other crops. This means that they can be insured against losses as a result of climate disasters or forest fires for example.
  •         Attitudes – One of the major effects of the legalisation of hemp is that it is a big step forward in helping to break the taboo of ‘cannabis’ and help to change attitudes to the plant. By being deemed as ‘legal’ we will see a greater number of people seeing the plant in a positive light.

There is no doubt that the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill is having and is going to have a profound impact on both the hemp industry as a whole, as well as the CBD industry. Whether it is through changing attitudes and better research, allowing farmers to grow it, offering them better protection, or improving the economy, the implications of the legalisation of hemp can only be seen as a huge step in allowing the world to benefit from the properties of the cannabis plant.

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