The long-awaited resurgence of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, colloquially referred to as the 2018 Farm Bill, became more promising yesterday as its latest iteration received overwhelming bipartisan approval as it decidedly passed through the Senate on Tuesday, by a vote of 87-to-13, and easily passed through the House of Representatives, by a vote of 369-to-47. Now, the reality of the 2018 Farm Bill awaits the hand of President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into law before the end of the month.
Most notable, the 2018 Farm Bill is set to legalize hemp, a plant that’s nearly identical to marijuana and is a key source of the highly popular health and wellness ingredient cannabinoid, or CBD. If signed into law, the 803-page Bill would be the most significant change to the Controlled Substances Act (the “CSA”) since 1971, which is illustrative of the federal government’s recognition that outdated federal regulations do not sufficiently distinguish between hemp, including CBD derived from hemp, and CBD derived from marijuana.
In contrast to its predecessor, the voluminous 2018 Farm Bill expressly and unambiguously provides that the definition of “marihuana” under the CSA would be amended to exclude “hemp”, which, in turn, is defined as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” Succinctly, if signed into law, the 2018 Farm Bill would be the first piece of federal legislation that explicitly carves out certain permutations of CBD containing tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”), the active ingredient that causes the psychoactive effect of marijuana, from the CSA.
Against this backdrop, financial institutions that have been reluctant to establish relationships with hemp-related business because of the inclusion of “hemp” in the CSA’s definition of “marihuana” and the February 14, 2014 guidance from the Department of the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, may now turn a new leaf and embrace the estimated $1 billion industry.
Relatedly, and in furtherance of the federal government’s progressive initiative toward the proliferation of the rapidly increasing hemp market, the 2018 Farm Bill also places far-reaching limitations on the States’ abilities to prevent the transport of hemp across interstate commerce. Specifically, the 2018 Farm Bill states, in relevant part, that “No State or Indian Tribe shall prohibit the transportation or shipment of hemp or hemp products,” so long as such hemp or hemp products are produced in accordance with discrete guidelines set forth elsewhere in the 2018 Farm Bill.
Notwithstanding, this monumental shift in cannabis reform should not be misconstrued as a blanket legalization of hemp at the state level. Conversely, the 2018 Farm Bill provides a roadmap for states and Indian tribes to become the “primary regulators” of hemp production by submitting “a plan under which the State or Indian tribe monitors and regulates” the production of hemp within its borders. In this regard, those interested in getting involved in the hemp industry, in any capacity, are cautioned to review the applicable state law, which may carry more stringent restrictions than the 2018 Farm Bill, as well as any other pertinent federal authority.
Finally, it is worth noting that nothing in the 2018 Farm Bill implicates the status quo of marijuana or CBD derived from marijuana, both of which remain illegal under federal law. And while the legal landscape remains somewhat hazy, bipartisan agreement of the 2018 Farm Bill marks a long-overdue, massive step forward for the U.S. hemp industry.
About the authors
S. Ashley Jaber is an associate in the firm’s Corporate and Securities practice group. Ms. Jaber represents both public and privately-held clients in a broad range of corporate and securities matters. She also assists clients in the filing of registration statements and in complying with their ongoing SEC reporting obligations.
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Robert Volynsky is an associate in the firm’s Litigation Department. Mr. Volynsky engages in securities and general commercial litigation in both state and federal courts and before regulatory agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
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