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Farmers are still waiting for CBD product regulation 5 years after U.S. legalized hemp

Farmer Demarkius Medley stands in front of his hemp crop.
Greenlords Inc.
Urban farmer Demarkius Medley stopped growing hemp partly because the U.S Food and Drug Administration has not issued regulations for CBD.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced last month that it will not apply dietary supplement regulations to the hemp product CBD. The announcement has been frustrating for hemp farmers who have been waiting years for regulation.

Demarkius Medley, an urban farmer in Galesburg, Illinois, decided not to grow hemp last year, a crop that was at one point the most profitable part of his business.

Part of the reason for that is the lack of clarity around federal regulations for the hemp product cannabidiol, or CBD. He was hoping it might help if regulations were established this year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“I had business opportunities that I could have been a part of, if food products could be infused with CBD that I've grown on my farm,” said Medley.

However, the FDA recently decided thatit will not regulate the hemp product CBD as a dietary supplement or food additive. Instead it will work with Congress to develop a new stronger framework for regulation.

The announcement comes five years after hemp was legalized by the Farm Bill in 2018. Since then, stores have been selling CBD-infused lotions, gummies, beverages and more in the U.S. without regulation.

“From a farmer's perspective, this really isn't the best news because we don't have the clarity that we've been asking for since, you know, the last five years,” said Justin Swanson, president of the Midwest Hemp Council.

Hemp growers and CBD sellers were hoping the FDA would regulate CBD as a dietary supplement to stabilize a challenging and competitive industry and give customers confidence in their products.

“You could go to the gas station and get similar products that say CBD on them, but do you really know and are you that confident that they're gonna be as safe and effective as what they say?” said Zach Allen, co-owner of The Hemp Haus, a CBD store in Kansas City, Missouri.

“And a lot of those products on those shelves are not safe and not effective as they should be because there is no regulation.”

A white set of shelves is lined with a variety CBD products in a rainbow of colorful packaging.
Eva Tesfaye
Harvest Public Media
The Hemp Haus in Kansas City, Missouri, does its own set of tests on its CBD products in the absence of formal regulation from the FDA.

Those in the industry now worry that bringing the issue to Congress will likely stall the process even further.

“I have to decide at a certain point if I'm going to plant or not, so I can't wait on Congress to decide if I can sell this product after I grow it,” said Medley.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, said that with the current scientific evidence available, it is not clear that CBD meets the agency’s standards for dietary supplements and food additives. Studies that the agency looked at showed potential harm to the liver and the male reproductive system.

The agency raised concerns in particular about the product’s effects on children, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding and those who are on other medications.

“There are some public health risks because this thing has been kind of viral now because more dispensaries keep opening, ” said Eleazar Gonzalez, an agricultural economics professor at the Lincoln University Hemp Institute.

He added that there is an opportunity for hemp growers to turn to fiber products instead such as fabrics and building materials. The Midwest Hemp Council’s Justin Swanson agreed.

“The fiber and the grain industry is a huge, huge, untapped potential for farmers, and the one reason why it hasn't built up quicker really is just because CBD has been the rock star for so long,” Swanson said.

Eva Tesfaye covers agriculture, food systems and rural issues for KCUR and Harvest Public Media and is a Report For America corps member.

This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues. Follow Harvest on Twitter: @HarvestPM

I report on agriculture, food and water issues for Harvest Public Media and the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk. I’m based at KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri. If you have story ideas, you can reach me at etesfaye@kcur.org or on Twitter @EvaRTesfaye.
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