Last week in a small hearing room in a House office building, the House Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on Health Care and Financial Services held a hearing titled “Hemp in the Modern World: The Years long Wait for FDA Action.” The hearing, billed as a “first-of-its-kind,” allowed lawmakers and hemp industry experts to discuss issues facing the industry today and in the future, and it was an important step in framing the debate about the next Farm Bill (the current Farm Bill expires September 30). In that sense, the hearing was a success. But a close examination of the testimony, the opening statements of the legislators, and the staggering distance between the parties on the appropriate policy solutions was sobering to this author. The main takeaway: The next Farm Bill will determine the future of the hemp industry in America.
The key issue addressed at the hearing was “the impacts of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inaction on developing regulations to allow for the sale of hemp-derived CBD as food items or dietary supplements.”
The dividing lines were revealed from the jump. Subcommittee Chairwoman Lisa McClain (R-MI) opened her remarks with a rebuke of FDA’s failure to implement a sufficient regulatory regime for hemp:
FDA announced earlier this year that [it] needs a new regulatory framework for hemp and CBD… Translation: Give us more authority. Give us more money. Give us more staff and only then will we actually do our duties under the law.
To McClain, inaction by FDA has suppressed the hemp market by discouraging good-faith operators from entering the market and devoting much-needed capital because they do not have the necessary certainty that the government will stand behind that effort. Instead, this inaction “only benefits bad actors who capitalize on the confusion and the flood of the market with potentially unsafe products. The FDA must do better and use their already existing authority to regulate how derived products you know actually do the job they were signed up to do.”
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), who chairs the full Oversight Committee echoed those comments:
Even though we have more and more data available to regulators to make appropriate decisions about CBD in the marketplace, the FDA has taken no meaningful action to provide clear guidance and certainty in the market, refusing to regulate CBD products under existing lawful pathways… Without FDA regulations, the good faith producers of these products are left with no path forward and consumers are left in the dark.
Rep. Jamin Raskin (D-MD), ranking member on the full House Oversight Committee, said that he agrees that “we need reasonable regulation of the hemp and hemp derivative marketplace to protect consumers and to ensure the good actors in the hemp industry can grow their businesses and we could have a legitimate and flourishing market in hemp.”
Ronald Reagan once said that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the Government and I’m here to help.” In the cannabis world, that is all too often a sad truth. But the hemp industry needs the government’s help. That help can take many forms, and whatever form it takes likely will not satisfy all hemp operators and consumers. But the status quo is intolerable, and the next Farm Bill gives the government the opportunity to provide that help and save an industry that has the potential to help save America.