Growing hemp for the purpose of extracting cannabidiol (CBD) is a rapidly expanding industry due to the compound's potential to alleviate everything from painful sensations to cancer-related symptoms.
However, when hemp exceeds the legal limit for THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that causes intoxication, the plants are deemed "hot." When plants have a THC content of 0.3% or more, they are not considered hemp by state or federal regulations. If this threshold is exceeded, farmers risk losing their entire harvest.
Continuing to apply that restriction today creates a potential hurdle for hemp producers. There are very few cultivars or strains available that generate significant quantities of CBD while containing less than 0.3 percent THC.
When the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law by then-President Donald Trump, the production of hemp and hemp-derived products was legalized federally. Unfortunately, the bill had complicated barriers for farmers to follow, some of whom had raised concerns immediately after it was passed.
But there’s a new change that may be coming our way that could help cannabis farmers and improve the industry as a whole.
On Tuesday, the Hemp Advancement Act was introduced by Democratic Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine. The proposed legislation would provide a number of necessary reforms, one of which is an increase in the permissible threshold for the presence of THC in hemp products from the current 0.3% to 1% on the basis of dry weight.
It could also diminish the growing market for delta-8 THC products by officially counting the compound in allowable THC amounts. The delta-8 THC is not produced from hemp plant material; rather, it is synthesized from CBD that has been extracted.
State have adopted the 0.3% limit because there is no psychoactive effect at that level. But 0.3% is no magic number. The level around which THC has the potential to intoxicate is 1.0%. Even then, a THC content of 1.0% is still way below the average for medical and recreational cannabis, which stands at approximately 5% to 30% THC.
These restrictions are unnecessarily rigid, exposing farmers to an unduly high burden of legal risk and expense. A hemp bud containing even 1% THC will not make you high, just as the alcohol in kombucha would not get you drunk.
Entities that regulate the industry, such as the CDA Industrial Hemp Advisory Committee, don’t see it as a threat to public safety. But many growers have faced the disadvantages of the threshold with little control to rectify the situation, especially since it’s been proven that environmental stressors have little to do with an increase in THC production.
According to a new Cornell study, genetics plays a bigger role, rather than the environment, in determining the THC content and CBD to THC ratios in hemp material.
Raising the allowable THC threshold from 0.3% to 1% in hemp products and extracts gives growers more flexibility when processing the product.
Aside from the increased limitation, Pingree’s proposal would also remove a requirement under the 2018 Farm Bill that the crop can only be tested at laboratories registered by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The issue for growers in Maine is that there are not many accredited labs, so when farmers need testing, there's a scarcity of available labs.
Additionally, if passed, this bill could add more workers to the industry and end the present 10-year restriction that prevents people with drug-related felony convictions from obtaining a hemp license.
These provisions can help consumers and committees view hemp as a controlled substance rather than just an agricultural crop. Blurred lines contribute to mishaps and situations that negatively impact our hard-working farmers. If the bill is passed, Maine’s agricultural sector may flourish, and the industry as a whole faces an optimistic future down the line.
This issue is an excellent example of how important it is to base policy on scientific data. When this is not accomplished, we jeopardize consumer safety and deprive farmers of their hard-earned efforts. We cannot allow the stigma behind cannabis to persist and continue to misdirect legislation that has a direct impact on people and their livelihoods.