The CBD industry is in mourning. It feels as though it died in 1 day. Whereas one week ago, you may have been walking down the street, seeing all kinds of CBD products on storefronts (and perhaps you still will for a minute or two), today everyone who has invested, or made a livelihood, employs people in hemp farms, or works in a hemp farm, is sad, in disbelief, and many might soon be at risk of losing their entire crops and potentially even their freedom.
But I See CBD Everywhere. I Heard It Was “Here” to Stay. What Happened?
Several pilot programs for growing hemp for CBD initiated thanks to the 2014 Farm Act. Private research and development allowed for great innovation, as cannabis plants began to be bred for their healing CBD properties rather than the psychoactive THC (the “high” component that is still illegal in most states; I believe states where marijuana is legal will be somehow affected by this but not as much). Proprietary genetics companies that were trusted by both farmers and consumers flourished, such as Oregon CBD (read their own statement here on the mourning of CBD; they also do a great job at explaining the new testing requirements which is what farmers feel has “destroyed” the industry). The 2018 Farm bill, signed last December 2018, allowed for small businesses, groups of farmers that had previously farmed less lucrative crops, horticulture students in universities, and entrepreneurs to get licensed and thus begin growing, processing, and selling this wonderful plant to the public. As my husband who is a farmer calls it, “It was the first time in a hundred years that the government finally said – okay farmers, here’s a NEW crop, grow it, research it, distribute it safely.” It was an exciting time for everyone. Of course, as in any new industry, without proper regulation we are subject to humans making grave mistakes. Some people (a lot, actually) took advantage of this industry and sold CBD “flower” that wasn’t as premium as they claimed it to be, CBD “flower” with the incorrect testing requirements and CBD%, and more. Nonetheless, this was NOT the majority of farmers or people in CBD. CBD began to also be perfected and distributed for healing properties, to children suffering from epilepsy, to cancer patients and those with seizures, to stressed-out college students who benefitted from CBD oil before taking exams.
USDA Regulation Comes In
Most people in the industry thought that once USDA regulation kicked in (promised in 2019, early 2020), bona fide farmers would be in the CBD industry to stay and “malpracticing” farmers, brokers, and distributors would be removed, as they hadn’t proved compliant before and they probably wouldn’t be compliant now. However, the USDA first rule took everyone by surprise on October 29, 2019, as it seems that it effectively ends an industry where farmers had gotten the green light to invest millions of dollars into land, machinery, seeds, plants, etc. Many people gave it all up to begin a career in hemp for CBD.
Although there are many items on the USDA agenda for hemp regulation (many of which absolutely make sense and are extremely necessary), here are the ones that have farmers feel like their livelihoods have been destroyed:
Total THC testing: There are 2 kinds of tests that states use to test the THC levels in their hemp plants. The legal limit most often used to determine hemp for CBD levels was the Δ delta-9 THC level test. Delta-9 THC is the psychoactive component that makes people feel high. In high CBD low THC plants, this Δ component must not exceed 0.3% (if you’ve ever tried a CBD product, you are probably familiar with seeing that claim on the label somewhere). This is fine and it makes sense. Nonetheless, the new USDA rule has gotten rid of the “delta-9 test” and has instead adopted the “Total THC Testing method,” this method includes all the “potential THC” that a hemp plant could develop, and this test must also not exceed the level of 0.3%. Because a total THC test must be applied after the hemp has been “decarboxylated,” this chemical process transforms the THC-A (Potential THC, or an acid that isn’t psychoactive and not part of the delta-9 THC) effectively into delta-9 THC, thus raising the legal limit levels of the crop. It sounds complicated, and Cannabis Attorney Rod Kight explains it here very eloquently and clearly, but it basically means that no genetics on the market will be able to pass this test. Not only is the new USDA rule applying a test that people can’t pass, but those who are shown as non-compliant must incinerate their crops (as anything above 0.3% of total THC will now be considered marijuana which is federally illegal and a class I controlled substance). Anything above total THC levels of 0.5% (which could still be at 0.3% of delta 9 levels) could be considered as intentional negligence and the farmer could potentially be convicted. Farmers, if they want to meet those new numbers, will have to literally regress in all the research and development they have done. Here’s another article by Kight that sheds light on USDA regulation.Another problem, which makes the passing of this test impossible, is that farmers will be required to test their crops by the state 15 days prior to harvest, by sending the top 2 inches of their flower buds (where CBD and THC concentrations are highest). CBD farmers want to let their plants grow to where their CBD levels have been maximized (which also raises the THC levels but not above the previously established delta-9 limit). There is no way that farmers will be able to pass the total THC test that close to their harvest. Now farmers must harvest early, get paid perhaps at a loss, and will, consequently, sell an inferior product than they otherwise would have grown.
How Will this Affect Consumers and What Can I (as the General Public) Do about It?
Consumers, family and friends, CBD lovers, CBD advocates, and the general public alike, the CBD industry needs you now more than ever. On the exciting edge of innovation, entrepreneurship, and community building, it is not only baffling, but also a sad reality that will hurt farmers and families. Stand with your farmers to support the continuation and logical rules and testing of this natural, healing element that is hemp for CBD. A USDA mandated delta-9 THC test would be just fine.
Here is how this stab at the CBD industry will actually affect your CBD products: Basically, good genetics and good agricultural practices (from legal, compliant farmers), will have to regress and make inferior products in order to stay compliant. A crop that normally would have great levels of say, 20% CBD, would now have to be harvested way prematurely to where the CBD levels might be at a 5%-10%. This will affect the quality of your oil, tincture, flower, or whatever else it may be. It will require significantly larger CBD flower to create the same levels of CBD product that people have become accustomed to, and therefore, drive the price of the product higher (assuming CBD products remain on the market). It might be better than a multivatamin, but you surely won’t be ingesting as many beneficial cannabinoids as with a cleaner, well-bred, well-researched and cared-for product.
It is extremely nerve-wracking that this new rule comes into effect today, 10/31/19. Outdoor growers who are done harvesting will not have difficulties selling their premium high CBD hemp products that they worked year-long to produce. Farmers with plants still in the ground are scared. They are now forced to decide between scenario A: which is harvest early (for greenhouse growers this would mean now) and take a financial hit for extremely low CBD levels, or scenario B: which is gambling until regulation is fully established, and be at risk of losing everything (including potentially their freedom). Businesses who had already bought their CBD seed for next year are at a loss. You won’t nearly see as much CBD on the market next year as you see today. Canada has adopted a full legalization of marijuana, and Mexico is on the verge to pass full legalization before this year ends. The US cannot regress as the world moves forward economically, industrially, and agriculturally.
The good news, is that the USDA rule is not definitive yet, as they also open a 60-day comment period after which the rule could be revisited and (hopefully) edited. After the 60-day period, the rule should stand for the next two years. The CBD industry as a whole, urges you, the consumer, the most priceless and important part of any industry, to take a stand with your farmers and comment on the USDA rule. Good farmers want good regulation, they want to help weed out (pardon the puns), the “bad guys.” Good farmers want to sell a premium, quality product that is beneficial and compliant with the law. Nonetheless, the law needs to make sense and not attack the actual crop that the farmers are trying to grow. This does not happen with other crops.
The Future is Coming: CBG
There is a new cannabinoid found in cannabis that has been researched for some time and will hit the markets soon, especially as CBD comes very prematurely to an (unnecessary?) end. This cannabinoid is CBG, and companies like Oregon CBD have bred it with 0% THC. While CBG also shows powerful healing benefits, it is sad that farmers must now try to scramble for CBG genetics as they can no longer safely produce CBD. The online wholesale hemp markets are now full of CBG scammers, selling seeds at unreasonable prices. In addition, they may not be real CBG seeds. Farmers, whose lives and income depends on this crop as they have invested everything in it, may fall for CBG scams. Oregon CBD returning customers received “dibs” on this type of seed, but unfortunately farmers outside this group weren’t given a chance. Just remember, if you soon see CBG advertised as 0% THC as though that is a good thing; it has nothing to do with health and more to do simply with industry overregulation.
The industry urges you, the public, to write, speak, call, vote, educate, educate, educate. The stories and testimonials of patients who have been truly helped by high CBD can’t be silenced. This cannot be the end of the beginning of natural healing.
Written By: Gabriel and Pamela Jertberg