Trump Administration Weighs In On Industrial Hemp

Authored By: Rod Kight


The Trump Administration (Administration) made public its views on industrial hemp last week. After speaking at the Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture in Denver on February 21, Greg Ibach, undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), told the press that current hemp regulations are “fairly narrow”. He implied that the Administration does not want to see that change when the Farm Bill is rewritten this year, which will likely include a revision of the industrial hemp provisions.

Opening the door wide open nationwide, with no restrictions, may not be in the best interests of the hemp industry. One of the challenges we maybe have in the hemp industry is to make sure that demand and production coincide.

When asked how the USDA and the Administration envision hemp being regulated, Ibach said there’s danger to opening up the market to all states:

We need to be careful so that we don’t kill the market for hemp by overburdening the market with supply before there is demand for it.

Ibach went on to state that oversight of industrial hemp should not be with the USDA. Rather, the Administration contends it should be with the U.S. Department of Justice (Justice Department), which includes the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Although it is true that there have been some concerns about oversupply, these statements are disingenuous, at best. First of all, the Administration routinely boasts about how quickly and thoroughly it eliminates regulations in the market. Its desire to regulate hemp is completely out of character. Second, the idea that the Justice Department and DEA should regulate industrial hemp is ludicrous. In fact, Congress has gone out of its way to get these agencies out of hemp’s way by enacting consecutive appropriations acts which specifically prohibit federal funds from being used to interfere with legal hemp. The most recent appropriations act actually calls out the Justice Department and DEA by name. So what gives?

I think there are three possibilities as to why the Administration has taken this position. The first is a simple lack of education regarding hemp. Without getting into politics at large, we’ve all seen this Administration take public positions on issues about which it has limited knowledge or understanding. Strangely, and hopefully, this is the most likely reason for Ibach’s statements. Despite its meteoric growth and expansion, industrial hemp remains widely misunderstood. If (mis)education is the issue, then that is something that can fairly easily be remedied. My concern is that there is active lobbying against industrial hemp by two powerful forces, Big Pharma and/or the DEA.

The second possibility is that so-called “Big Pharma” has the Administration’s ear. Medical marijuana, and, in particular, cannabidiol (CBD) from hemp, is cutting into its profits. Additionally, with several major pharmaceutical companies actively developing cannabinoid based medications, it is conceivable that they are quietly lobbying for greater restrictions on hemp and hemp-derived CBD to limit competition.

The final possibility that comes to mind is that the DEA has been exerting some behind the scenes influence on the Administration. The DEA has been notorious in its attempts to interfere with hemp, starting with blocking importation of seeds to Kentucky shortly after the 2014 Farm Act was enacted. The DEA is currently being sued for interfering with hemp-derived CBD. A bipartisan group of 28 Congressional representatives filed an amicus (“Friend of the Court”) brief in the case, stating:

[T]he “principle” at the core of the [DEA’s Marihuana Extract Rule] was that DEA did not intend to follow the direction of Congress.

The idea that the DEA should control a non-psychoactive agricultural product, rather than the USDA, makes no sense whatsoever.

Time will tell whether the Administration holds fast to its position. In the meantime, I recommend letting your political representatives in Congress know your views about hemp.

Rod Kight is a lawyer based in Asheville, NC. He is licensed in North Carolina and Oregon and represents legal cannabis businesses. You can contact him by clicking here.

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