COLUMBUS, Ohio (Dec. 3, 2018) – A bill introduced in the Ohio House would legalize industrial hemp and pave the way for retail sales of hemp products, including CBD, nullifying federal prohibition in effect.
Rep. Daniel Ramos (D-Lorain), along with a bipartisan coalition of three cosponsors, introduced House Bill 773 (HB773) on Nov. 20. The legislation would remove hemp from the state’s definition of marijuana and effectively take it off the schedule of controlled substances the state bans. In effect, the law would legalize the growing, cultivation, production and sale of industrial hemp in Ohio.
HB773 does not establish any kind of licensing or special regulatory program for industrial hemp production. In effect, hemp would be treated like every other agricultural crop such as tomatoes or corn.
“Hemp is not the same psychoactive plant that is too often confused with marijuana,” Ramos said. “It is a crop, a fiber already grown and used around the world to manufacture paper, clothing, and a whole host of products we use every day. Banning hemp would be like banning cotton. We can all benefit from the many uses of hemp, but we must first rid the stigma of this versatile fiber as an illegal drug. Immediately ending its prohibition would provide Ohio farmers with an edge over farmers in other nearby states.”
The bill also includes provisions specifically allowing the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries to sell CBD products.
CBD has proven effective in treating a number of medical conditions, including seizures, pain and anxiety. According to Ramos’ legislative aide, passage of HB773 would legalize CBD sales in both dispensaries and retail settings.
“The reason for the distinction is that Ohio’s medical marijuana law only permits the sale of marijuana in dispensaries. Since there is a definition change, Rep. Ramos wanted to ensure hemp products could be sold in both retail stores as well as dispensaries.”
Introduction of HB773 was partly in response to a recent ruling by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy holding that classified CBD as a banned substance in Ohio. Despite the state ban, at least one health food store in Akron continues to sell CBD products. But other retailers have suspended sales of CBD. A Cincinnati store relocated across the Ohio River to Kentucky avoid the state ban.
Despite Ohio’s efforts to legalize hemp and open the door to CBD sales, the commercial sale of CBD is illegal under federal law. In fact, commercial sale of any domestically produced hemp or hemp product is still prohibited. But despite what the federal government says, people in states that have legalized hemp production continue to nullify this federal prohibition in practice and effect.
FEDERAL FARM BILL
In 2014, Congress cracked the door open for hemp in the U.S. with an amendment to the 2014 Farm Bill. The law allows hemp cultivation for research purposes, but prohibits “commercial” production.
The “hemp amendment” included in the 2014 farm bill —
…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oil-seed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Drug Enforcement Agency released a “statement of principles” to guide interpretation of the hemp section in the Farm Bill. It states, “The growth and cultivation of industrial hemp may only take place in accordance with an agricultural pilot program to study the growth, cultivation, or marketing of industrial hemp established by a State department of agriculture or State agency responsible for agriculture in a State where the production of industrial hemp is otherwise legal under State law.”
In short, the current federal law authorizes farming of hemp – by research institutions, or within state pilot programs – for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited.
The definition of “commercial” and the extent to which sales and marketing are allowed under the rubric of “research” remains murky. This has created significant confusion.
The statement of principles also asserted that industrial hemp programs are limited to fiber and seed. It didn’t mention the CBD oil or other edible hemp products. The DEA has interpreted that to mean they remain illegal. The agency has flat-out said CBD cannot be sold under any circumstances. An Indiana TV station interviewed DEA spokesman Rusty Payne who said, “It’s not legal. It’s just not.” Another DEA spokesman told the Louisville Courier-Journal, “All hemp products that can be consumed are illegal.”
Several other states with federally-compliant hemp programs, such as Kentucky, North Dakota, Minnesota and New York, have grown significant acreage under federally-approved research programs. This takes the first step, but with federal shackles in place, these states are not legally allowed to develop any kind of commercial market. Ironically, many of these “federally compliant” programs are not actually federally compliant.
Recognizing its limited research program was hindering the development of the industry, West Virginia dumped its federally compliant hemp program during the 2017 legislative session and will now issue federally non-compliant commercial licenses to growers. West Virginia Public Broadcasting confirmed limits imposed by the old program due to its conformity with federal law were holding back the development of a viable hemp industry and everyday farmers cannot benefit.
“But because of the strict requirements under the 2014 bill, growers are not able to sell their plants and cannot transport them across state lines to be turned into those usable products. That’s limited the ability to create a real hemp industry in the state.”
Other states, including Colorado, Oregon, Maine and Vermont have simply ignored federal prohibition and legalized industrial hemp production within their state borders.
Colorado was the first state with widespread commercial hemp production. Farmers began growing hemp in southeast Colorado back in 2013 and the industry is beginning to mature. The amount of acreage used to grow industrial hemp in the state doubled in 2016 to nearly 5,000 acres, and nearly doubled again in 2017.
The Oregon legislature initially legalized industrial hemp production in 2009. While it was technically legal to grow hemp in the state, farmers didn’t take advantage of the opportunity for nearly five years. When the Oregon Department of Agriculture finally put a licensing and regulatory program in place early in 2014, farmers began growing hemp. The initial regulatory structure placed significant limits on hemp farming and effectively locked small growers out of the market. In 2016, Gov. Kate Brown signed House Bill 4060 into law. It relaxed state laws regulating hemp already on the books and made the crop more like other agricultural products. Within months, the Oregon Department of Agriculture had already promulgated new rules under the reformed law. According to Oregon’s Cannabis Connection, the rules set the stage to creates a “massive” medical hemp market. The state produced 3,469 acres of hemp in 2017.
Both Colorado, Oregon and now South Carolina demonstrate how loosening rules at the state level encourage the market and allow hemp a legitimate commercial hemp industry to develop.
HUGE MARKET FOR HEMP
According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. is the only developed nation that hasn’t developed an industrial hemp crop for economic purposes.
Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $600 million per year. They count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s #1 importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.
During World War II, the United States military relied heavily on hemp products, which resulted in the famous campaign and government-produced film, “Hemp for Victory!”
HB773 was referred to the House Health Committee where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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