The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, also referred to as the 2018 Farm Bill, is a U.S. law that reapproves government spending for several key programs listed in the prior 2014 Farm Bill, and rolls in many new ones.
The new bill cost $867 billion and was passed on December 11, 2018, by the U.S. Senate and then by the House of Representatives on the following day. While farm bills usually focus on farm subsidies, crop insurance, and nutritional aid, this recent iteration contains some high-profile changes about cannabis and hemp cultivation.
What Is The 2018 Farm Bill?
The 2018 Farm Bill reinforces support programs for farms, maintains disaster programs, improves crop insurance, and promotes voluntary conservation. Basically, it offers stability, assistance, and certainty to all farmers, forest managers, and ranchers within the United States.
It was signed into law on December 20, 2018, by President Trump, and its key programs were implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It lists key policy extensions concerning nutrition and agriculture for five years.
But with the growing support and consumer interest in hemp building from the 2014 Farm Bill, there was much anticipation about how the 2018 bill would change federal hemp laws.
How Did The 2018 Farm Bill Change Hemp?
Before the inclusion of any Farm Bill hemp regulations, U.S. federal law – for decades – did not officially recognize any differences between hemp and other cannabis plants. They were effectively made illegal by the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937 and then made completely illegal by the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, which banned cannabis entirely.
According to the 2018 Farm Bill hemp definition, industrial hemp is a cannabis plant that cannot contain more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the psychoactive compound in cannabis that induces a “high.”
This revamped description of hemp is the key difference that separates it from marijuana cannabis. And though it brought about a significant change to the United States’ hemp policy, it also caused a few misconceptions about hemp and hemp-based products’ legality.
Did The 2018 Farm Bill Legalize Hemp?
The Farm Bill 2018 did help to legalize hemp in the United States, but it did so with some major caveats. Under the last Farm Bill, in 2014, hemp was only allowed for pilot programs that both the USDA and state departments of agriculture had to approve. It granted a limited expansion for hemp cultivation but only for study purposes.
The 2018 Farm Bill expanded hemp availability for other uses than just pilot programs researching market interest for hemp-derived products. It loosened hemp regulation by allowing:
- Broad hemp cultivation
- The transfer of hemp-based products across state lines for commercial purposes
- No restriction on selling, transporting, or possessing hemp-based products – as long as they were produced according to regulation
The Farm Bill did not create an entirely free system of hemp cultivation. People or businesses still cannot grow hemp whenever and wherever they like; these new regulations also impose a few stipulations:
- According to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp cannot have more than 0.3 percent THC. Any cannabis plant that crosses the THC threshold is considered marijuana cannabis under federal law and fully subject to legal ramifications as listed within regulation.
- State and federal governments both share regulatory power regarding hemp production and cultivation. The legislation explains that state departments of agriculture are required to meet with the state’s governor and chief law officer to create a hemp licensing and regulation plan for submission to the Secretary of USDA. The Secretary must approve the plan before anything can start. If a state chooses not to establish hemp regulations, then the USDA will build a regulatory program in which hemp farmers within those states will have to apply for licenses and adhere to a federal government program.
- The bill also lists actions considered violations of the federal hemp laws – for example, growing hemp without a license or producing cannabis with over 0.3 percent THC. It also describes possible penalties for those violations, resolutions to become compliant, and which actions could qualify as felonies – like repeated offenses.
Overall, the 2018 Farm Bill did legalize hemp, but it doesn’t allow anyone to grow it as freely as a vegetable or flower garden. The United States sees hemp as a heavily regulated crop for industrial and personal cultivation.
Did The 2018 Farm Bill Make CBD Legal?
The 2018 Farm Bill did play a significant role in the CBD industry’s rise and growth; CBD became legalized but with specific conditions.
A major misconception has some people believing that the Farm Bill fully legalized CBD or cannabidiol – the non-intoxicating cannabis compound. And while the law does remove hemp-based products from Schedule I status – the tier for drugs deemed most dangerous under the Controlled Substances Act – it doesn’t legalize CBD in general.
The Farm Bill can create exceptions to a Schedule I status, but only under certain situations. The bill states that any cannabinoid – the active compounds within a cannabis plant – derived from hemp is legal only if the hemp source is cultivated in a way that adheres to the Farm Bill, the associated state and federal regulations, and by a licensed hemp farmer.
In other words, if the CBD or any other cannabinoid comes from a cannabis plant that has more than 0.3 percent THC or wasn’t grown in the way prescribed in the Farm Bill, it is still a Schedule I substance in the eyes of federal law and therefore, illegal.
The only exception to this murky distinction is the pharmaceutical-grade CBD product that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved in 2018, Epidiolex. More importantly, the lesson here is to be mindful of the source of CBD products.
For instance, oil tinctures that contain CBD extracted from industrial hemp grown under the proper regulations are legal under the 2018 Farm Bill. However, if the CBD came from marijuana cannabis, which already has over 0.3 percent THC, it is not under any federal legal protection – even though CBD itself is non-intoxicating.
Will Hemp And Cannabis Laws Continue To Change?
Current trends indicate that hemp and cannabis laws in the United States may keep changing for the better. Over the last two decades, more than 30 states have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes. And over the past seven years, 11 states have made cannabis legal for general adult use. Even more recently, in 2020, six more states – South Dakota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and Arizona – joined the ranks of legalizing cannabis.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) already ended its restrictions on marijuana supplies to researchers and drug companies. Before their policy change, the DEA required that marijuana for research studies came only from the U.S. government’s facility at the University of Mississippi.
The MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement) is now in the voting process through the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. It’s a significant piece of legislation designed to fully deschedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and establish social and criminal reform involving cannabis.
Whether big or small, every victory leads to better regulations, more availability, and increased knowledge of cannabis and its benefits. And as the U.S. government continues to make history with reformed hemp and cannabis laws, the 2018 Farm Bill will be viewed as a major factor that helped shape the cannabis and CBD landscape.