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U.S. Extends 2018 Farm Bill to 2024 Amid Concerns About Hemp-Derived THC

In 2018, the Farm Bill1U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Farm Bill,” USDA, [Online]. Available: https://www.usda.gov/farmbill allowed farmers to legally produce hemp for the first time in over four decades. The bill, initially set to expire on Sept. 30th, 2023, has been extended to 2024. 

The Farm Bill – legally known as the Agriculture Improvement Act – is renegotiated every five years. At five-year intervals, Congress debates various agriculture topics including horticulture, conservation, and nutrition. It is one of the most complex, wide-reaching pieces of legislation, and hemp is only a small part of it. 

The extension comes as part of a short-term government funding bill that seeks to avoid the “dairy cliff” that would have come into effect on Jan. 1st. Under the 1949 agricultural statute, the price of fresh milk would have increased by more than 100%.  

Speaking on the extension, the four leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees commented that, “The extension is in no way a substitute for passing a 5-year Farm Bill”2U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, “Stabenow, Boozman, Thompson, Scott Statement on Farm Bill Extension,” agriculture.senate.gov, [Online]. Available: https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/newsroom/dem/press/release/stabenow-boozman-thompson-scott-statement-on-farm-bill-extension and went on to say that the full five-year plan will be published next year.  

The 2018 bill legalized the production and sale of “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant” as long as the delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) does not exceed 0.3% of the dry weight of the overall product. At the time, lawmakers did not anticipate the new market that they were about to create. 

Despite the excitement around the initial legalization of hemp-derived cannabinoids, critics were quick to point out that the blanket extension supports the flourishing cannabinoid industry. The health impact of THC is relatively unknown, but one study found that evidence from observational studies and randomized controlled trials “show an association between cannabis and general psychiatric symptoms, including depression and mania”3“Balancing risks and benefits of cannabis use: umbrella review of meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and observational studies” in BMJ, vol. 382, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.bmj.com/content/382/bmj-2022-072348 among others. This, and the fact that THC is the main psychoactive component of cannabis, has left many people wondering why THC has received special treatment. 

One of the biggest problems in the hemp industry is the lack of regulation across states. Hemp farmers have taken advantage of the relatively unregulated nature of the cannabinoid industry to create a thriving market for hemp-derived products that are technically illegal. 

In New York state, hemp farmers must pay $500 for a three-year license, register with their local police station, complete a Hemp Seed Retail Application4“Seed Retail Application,” New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://agriculture.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2022/05/seed_retail_application.pdf, and undergo a background check before they can produce hemp. They also have to hire independent third parties to confirm that their crops have less than 0.3% THC. 

In other states, laws around hemp production are far more lax. Farmers in Vermont and Massachusetts do not have to undergo a background check to grow or sell hemp. This is just one example of the inconsistencies that hemp growers and retailers face across the States. 

On the other side of the debate, some argue that the 0.3% limit is simply not enough. Surprisingly, the 0.3% limit has nothing to do with intoxication levels. In fact, lawmakers derived this number from a 1976 journal article by Ernest Small and Arthur Cronquist. In the article, Small and Cronquist argued that 0.3% separates low-THC and high-THC cannabis5“A Practical and Natural Taxonomy for Cannabis” Ernest Small and Arthur Cronquist 1976 [Online]. Available: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1220524.

It is unclear why the federal government has used an almost 50-year-old journal to form a core part of legislation. Since the 2018 Farm Bill, Dr. Ernest Small has gone on record saying that “a 0.3% level is very conservative”6Laurie Fagan, “Cannabis, marijuana agriculture Canada scientist,” CBC News, 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/cannabis-marijuana-agriculture-canada-scientist-1.4951110 and has highlighted its far-reaching implications for biodiversity and economic stability. 

Dozens of groups have sprung up in support of hemp-derived cannabinoids. Vote Hemp is just one of the organizations that is campaigning to raise the legal percentage to 1%7“Vote Hemp, ‘Vote Hemp urges community to sign petition calling for Congress to approve 1% THC levels in hemp,’ Vote Hemp,” 2020. [Online]. Available: https://votehemp.com/press_releases/vote-hemp-urges-community-to-sign-petition-calling-for-congress-to-approve-1-thc-levels-in-hemp/. President Eric Steenstra wants to increase the legal limit to protect farmers and their jobs. “Many farmers have had their crops destroyed due to the outdated definition of hemp,” Steenstra said. “This limit is holding farmers back.”

For some, the 2018 Farm Bill, and the subsequent extension, are inroads into legalizing a highly addictive substance. For others, the legislation is the start of a new agriculture opportunity that has limitless potential.


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Lexi Burgess
Lexi Burgess
I keep my ear to the ground to report on Vaping, emerging health research, and new vape legislation. When the ever-changing landscape of the vape industry isn’t on my mind, I play badminton and read old horror novels.
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