In the last few weeks, there have been some significant, and largely unexpected, developments in the hemp industry. In June, the Senate Agriculture Committee advanced language as part of the 2018 Farm Bill that would federally legalize Hemp. The Hemp Farming Act, included in the larger Farm Bill is supported by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and has broad support among Republicans in Congress. The introduction and broad support for the Hemp Farming Act coupled with the FDA’s approval of Epidiolex, a medical CBD oil made by GW pharmaceuticals, guaranteed 2018 will be one of the most significant years on record for hemp legislation. However, in the last few weeks, there have been developments that have stifled the legislative process and the hope that 2018 will be the formative year hemp reformation supporters have been seeking.
June 2018 was a big month for hemp. The FDA approved Epidiolex and the Senate Agriculture Committee advanced the pro-hemp language in the Farm Bill. When the FDA approved Epidiolex, it started a countdown for the rescheduling of CBD by the Drug Enforcement Agency. How could a Schedule I substance with no medicinal value, according the the DEA, have real and proven medicinal value as claimed by the FDA when it formally approved Epidiolex? There was an obvious conflict that needed to be addressed; the DEA was forced to recognize the medicinal value of CBD and reschedule CBD. On September 27, the DEA formally rescheduled FDA approved CBD to Schedule V of the Controlled Substances Act. Right now, there is only one FDA approved CBD: Epidiolex. The DEA has recommended that all non-FDA approved CBD remain at its current status as Schedule I under the CSA, thereby granting GW pharmaceuticals a temporary monopoly on Schedule V CBD.
The DEA’s ruling comes after an exhaustive examination of CBD by the Food and Drug Administration leading up to its approval of Epidiolex in June. Recently released documents have shown that the FDA actually concluded that CBD does not meet the criteria for federal control at all and should not be regulated as part of the Controlled Substances Act. The FDA concluded that “CBD..[does] not have a significant potential for abuse and could be removed from the [Controlled Substances Act].” Despite this recommendation, the DEA opted to continue with the current classification of CBD citing international drug treaties like the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to which the U.S. is a party.
The DEA’s failure to drop CBD as a regulated substance was a significant upset for supporters of common sense hemp reform. Despite this defeat, the 2018 Farm Bill has remained a point of hope. While Senate and House members part of the bill’s reconciliation conference had hoped to advance the legislation by September 30, they were not able to do so. The Food-Stamp Work Requirements provision that was a part of the House version of the bill and supported by President Trump has ultimately stymied the bill’s progress. In fact, the conference committee missed its self-imposed deadline of September 30 and Congress failed to pass an extension for the 2014 Farm Bill, which expired that same day. With the midterms looming, it’s hard to imagine there being any real progress on the 2018 Farm Bill until after November.
While the actions of Congress and the FDA in June set 2018 up to be a progressive year for hemp, the DEA’s September rulings and Congress’ missed deadlines have dampened the hope of many. While common sense hemp legislation is necessary to achieve a free-market in the hemp industry, it’s not surprising given the general lack of common sense in government the last two years that it’s not quite happened.