The Growing Pains of Hemp Legalization

by | Jul 2, 2019

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

Between the passage of the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bill, there was virtually no federal oversight of hemp cultivation across the country. Each state developed its own set of legislation, policing, and protocols, which evolved into the messy patchwork of state legislation available in 2019.

Today, hemp cultivators, hemp processors, and hemp shippers are getting caught up in the grey and not-so-grey areas of hemp regulation. When there is no clear definition, discord between federal departments, and misunderstandings between each level of government – it's not easy to satisfy everyone.

The American hemp industry is experiencing the growing pains of hemp legalization. Since the beginning of 2019, many hemp-businesses have run into frustrating hurdles trying to get their product to market. In some cases, states don't even have a framework for cultivation. When cultivation is allowed, then transportation is the issue. In some cases, the complications have been financially devastating.

General Confusion and Hemp Confiscations Across the Country

The 2018 Farm Bill made many changes to hemp law, most notably removing the crop from designation under the Controlled Substances Act. The Bill also included sections on transportation of hemp and extending farmer protections to those farming hemp.

As lawmakers play catch up to the details outlined in the 2018 Farm Bill,  there is inevitably still some confusion. For one, there is significant contention between federal departments on the legal status of cannabidiol (CBD) as the Drug Enforcement Agency still maintains CBD products as Schedule 1. Another area of confusion is that of cannabis research. Research is still highly restricted, and materials must come from the single source of research-grade cannabis from University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy's National Center for Natural Products Research.

Despite these two major wrinkles, the passage of the Farm Bill quite clearly legalized the cultivation, processing, sale, and transport of hemp across the US. Still, not every state is on board yet. There have been several reports of farmers and transporters running into complications with their harvest.

The first story broke in January when police in Idaho confiscated 6,700 pounds of hemp moving through the state from Oregon to Colorado. Big Sky Scientific, the company behind the shipment, as well as the driver, came up on charges of illegally hauling hemp within state lines. The truck driver is now facing a felony charge of drug trafficking. Big Sky has put the value of the hemp shipments sitting in state storage at $300,000. At the time of writing, the load is still under control of the state.

In West Virginia, before the 2018 Farm Bill became law, Commonwealth Alternative Medicinal Options and Grassy Run Farms saw their shipment of hemp confiscated despite the state having pre-2018 hemp cultivation protocols. The state claimed the companies had improperly sourced seeds from outside the state, as well as a few other issues regarding signage and fencing.

The defendants have since won a series of victories, allowing them to harvest, dry, process and finally to transport their product to Pennsylvania. The final ruling (March 6, 2019) dismissed the case altogether with the judge noting “Despite being enacted after the issues in this case arose, the 2018 Farm Bill provides further evidence that Congress did not intend for industrial hemp to be classified as a Schedule I drug.”

Most recently, a Minnesota hemp farmer has had his license revoked after law enforcement officers claimed to have found over 0.3 percent THC in one of his shipments. The farmer, Luis Miguel Hummel, told MPR news that despite the initial letter, law enforcement hasn't followed up, the shipment wasn't confiscated, and the driver wasn't charged. He has yet to see any evidence or test results proving his crop's failure. He has since sent his product for third-party testing and found his hemp falls well under regulations for THC.

Hummel is now suing Minnesota state, claiming it “violated his constitutional rights after they sent him a letter informing him his license was revoked and his crop would be destroyed.” This case is peculiar as there is little information available from the accusers – the state itself. According to MPR News, “It's not clear, though, what happened, or if the state followed its own rules.”

Clarity Coming for Hemp Legislation Between

These three cases demonstrate the differences between political opinions, interpretation by local law enforcement, and a broader confusion between state and federal law. There is no other topic which has as clearly demonstrated the complicated state and federal legislative divide than that of cannabis.

Since these stories began circulating among concerned hemp farmers, the system has entered into a period of adjustment. As the ruling judge in West Virginia case stated, “the Court finds that Congress intended to carve out an exception to the [Controlled Substances Act] for industrial hemp.” Slowly, legislation at all levels of government is adapting to the ideas laid out within the 2018 Farm Bill.

As only a few examples of positive change, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has clarified his stance on shipping hemp and hemp-based products like CBD. Furthermore, the US Department of Agriculture explained it's position “After USDA publishes regulations implementing the new hemp production provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill, States and Indian tribes may not prohibit the interstate transportation or shipment of hemp lawfully produced under a State or Tribal plan or under a license issued under the USDA plan.” Meaning transportation of hemp is legal, even though states continuing a prohibition on hemp farming

The dust is settling around hemp legalization, although there is still an “alphabet soup” of hemp regulation, as one legal expert chose to describe the situation. In the coming months, the varied opinions on hemp within the federal government will likely continue to evolve at a rapid pace.