Lack Of Oversight Continues To Hurt Hemp Industry, What To Expect From 2023 Farm Bill

It’s been nearly five years since former President Trump signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Act 2018), which effectively legalized hemp and hemp-derived products on the federal level. Under the bill, hemp is considered to have only 0.3% delta 9 THC. What about products derived from hemp, are they regulated as food? Are they considered supplements?

This is where things get complicated. In January 2023, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed it would not regulate CBD (Cannabidiol, another phytocannabinoid found in both hemp and marijuana) as a food and dietary supplement ingredient. Some four months later it presented a potential framework, but once again reaffirmed the ball is Congress’ court.

Since we’re in the second half of 2023 and the Farm Act 2018 was crafted to last five years, the legislature needs to come up with a new Farm Act soon. Benzinga spoke with an expert on what we can expect from the new bill and more on this industry issue. Scott Mazza is co-founder and COO of Vitality CBD, a Buffalo wellness company that provides certified organic, lab-tested CBD products.

“Five years later and consumers and producers deserve clarity,” Mazza told Benzinga.

Benzinga: In your opinion what is the 2018 Farm Bill most lacking?

Mazza: “Control. Yes, the bill legalized hemp, but it didn’t clarify what this actually meant. Cowboy operators sprung up overnight and brought subpar products to market. Worse, government agencies have not taken responsibility for regulating CBD.

“The result is two-fold: consumers suffer poor products and legitimate producers are tarred with the same brush as bad actors. The lack of oversight continues to hurt our industry.”

See Also: GOP Rep. Blasts FDA Over CBD Inaction During Historic Hearing: The Agency Wants More Money To Do Its Job

Benzinga: What do you expect to see in the new 2023 Farm Bill and what do you think it should cover?

Mazza: “The agency flagged developing 'a new pathway' with Congress that takes a harm reduction approach. There are some pros and cons to this decision. From an optimistic perspective, it looks like we will finally get minimum production thresholds. The FDA wants to implement basic oversight into production–like measures to mitigate the risk of contaminants. The administration also wants additional safeguards which could include CBD content limits and correct labels. In my view, action on these points is long overdue.”

Mazza added that a very small percentage of CBD producers currently test for purity and potency so that a separate regulatory and approval pathway “could finally give peace of mind that the product does what it says.”

“On the other hand, though, I do think there is space in the rules to accommodate the marketing of CBD as a food or dietary supplement. Contrary to what the FDA says, early studies show CBD’s potential benefits for anxiety and insomnia, in addition to growing use as a workout supplement.”

Benzinga: Do you think the controversial provision of the 2018 Farm Bill, which prohibits former prisoners who have completed their sentences from participating in hemp production would be removed from the 2023 Farm Bill?

Mazza: “Yes, I think it will be removed, and rightfully so. It simply doesn't make sense to ban people with a conviction from legal work. Ironically, the rules are reversed in my state when it comes to the recreational cannabis market.”

See Also: Bipartisan Group Of U.S. Lawmakers Present Bill That Would Provide Drug Felons With Equal Opportunity In Hemp Industry

Benzinga: What about delta-8 THC products? Will they eventually be regulated?

Mazza: “Farm Bill 2023 needs to make a judgment call on this compound. In a ruling last year, a federal appeals court upheld the legality of Delta-8 products under Farm Bill 2018. However, the court acknowledged that if an unintended loophole was created, ‘then it is for Congress to fix its mistake.’ We need certainty here. It just doesn’t make sense to have federal legalization and then bans in more than 20 states. Producing, selling, and consuming this product is very confusing at the moment – and it doesn’t need to be.”

“Further, the bill should sort out the legality of the broader range of synthetic psychoactive cannabinoids. Beyond delta-8 THC, legal hemp is also used to create delta-10 THC, THC-O, THC-A, THC-X, and others.”

Clarity Is Coming

Benzinga: What is your advice to CBD and cannabis companies for staying afloat until we have new regulations?

Mazza: “Companies right now have some tough decisions to make. Do they continue to position themselves as marketers in the supplement health and wellness space? Or is the smart money play to sell delta-8 THC and other intoxicating products? Or should they branch off into other markets, including pharmaceutical investments?

“Clarity is coming. My suggestion is to operate like purity and potency production rules are already in place. Get up to code by testing your products and correctly labeling them. This is best practice for you and your customers. And, when these rules eventually come into place, you’ll be ahead of the competition.”

Mazza noted that the Farm Bill of 2018, despite its flaws, created an opportunity for the development of a new industry and a new approach to wellness.

“Speaking as a participant in this industry, I sincerely hope that the FDA reevaluates its stance on classifying CBD as a food and dietary supplement. There are plenty of cases where this compound, when manufactured safely by professionals, has demonstrated holistic health benefits. Additionally, it can be argued that regulatory measures can sufficiently address product safety and quality without the need for an entirely separate approval process.” Mazza concluded.

Photo: Courtesy of Harrison Haines via Pexels

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