US Congress has two weeks left to vote on legalising hemp farming
The US is gearing up for a long-anticipated vote on a bill that will legalise hemp farming, but if the vote happens this week it’s still months from becoming law.
Approval will make industrial hemp farming and hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) legal in the US, opening the door for North America’s experienced hemp farmers to flood global markets with products like hemp seeds and oils.
Australia’s hemp sector, only legalised in November last year, is still finding its feet but already has investors who will be cheering on the US move — or fearing it.
Elixinol Global (ASX:EXL) is one of the biggest hemp operations in the US and boss Paul Benhaim believes hemp CBD can be bigger than hemp cultivation, medical and recreational marijuana.
He has been positioning his Colorado-based company to take full advantage of the changes, as Stockhead reported in April.
On the other side is Queensland Bauxite (ASX:QBL) which has delayed its re-entry to the ASX six times since October.
It began a foray into hemp last year, promising a 500 tonne seed yield by March this year but reaping only 80 tonnes as Australian farmers struggled to learn the peccadilloes of the new crop.
Months in the making
The final version of the US Farm Bill is expected to be published on Monday night AEST and many hope the House of Representatives will bring a vote at the same time — the two main houses of Congress only have another two weeks of sitting days before Christmas.
The Senate’s next sitting day isn’t until Wednesday.
The 2018 Farm Bill is the latest five-yearly spending authorisation for a variety of agriculture-related measures, from crop subsidies to food stamps.
This bill, however, includes measures to legalise industrial hemp farming.
Mr Benhaim believes there are no more sticking points to trip the legislation up.
“There is nothing that I’m aware of that could or should hold this back at this time, at least not logically or scientifically. Of course politically, illogical decisions sometimes happen,” he told Stockhead.
If it passes both houses, it will be sent to the President for his sign-off.
Not so simple
But Medlab Clinical (ASX:MDC) boss Dr Sean Hall believes the law won’t be ratified until February at the earliest, as a lame-duck Congress tries to finish last minute 2018 business.
Dr Hall says the Farm Bill is unlikely to be ratified until Congress reconvenes in late January, when it will be brought before a range of newly elected faces who may, or may not, be supportive of the bill.
Further, he believes various agencies in the US have quietly closed the door to some of the more hyped potential CBD products.
Hemp-CBD beers, an area hungered over by major drink makers, may be out.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau advises that while hemp is excluded from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act, they understand that the Farm Bill does not authorise the use of industrial hemp to make alcohol beverage products.
Earlier this year the world’s biggest cannabis market, California, said hemp couldn’t be infused into alcoholic beverages until the FDA or the state authorised it for human consumption.
Over at the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), they have approved cannabis and its offshoots to be sold in the US — but only as a registered drug that has gone through the FDA.
The FDA is already cracking down on hemp health claims that it hasn’t vetted.
Dr Hall says this means any hemp company in the US that considers adding health claims to their hemp breakfast cereal, or hemp seed oil, will face the full force of the FDA’s wrath.
“If you have a hemp product and can prove it, as opposed to marijuana, you can sell it nationally without being conflicted by US drug trafficking laws,” he said.
“But a lot of products coming out will be in in general retail [such as gym drinks].
“The argument is CBD from hemp alone will not make you high and people can pick up health benefits proven or yet to be proven, from it, but if you put a health claim on it, you then have to do a full FDA audit.”