REGION — For farmers, consumers and advocates of hemp, 2018 ended with a high note that could be a potential game changer in 2019.
President Donald Trump in December authorized the 2018 federal farm bill, which removed hemp — the nonpsychoactive variety of cannabis — from the federal government’s list of controlled substances.
The farm bill could be the catalyst that opens up a multi-billion-dollar industry, as food and beverage giants, cosmetic lines and tobacco companies have begun positioning themselves in the hemp market.
Locally, industry advocates and farmers have reacted positively to the news, but said they are waiting to see the federal, state and local regulations that will govern the industry.
“I think it was a step that was needed because it has been so difficult to produce,” said Bob Echter, owner of Encinitas largest cut flower grower, Dramm and Echter. “It’s a great product from everything that I can see. For the purpose of moving farmers further toward profitability, it is good. There’s not a good reason to have it banned.”
Hemp contains cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound that’s popular for its medicinal properties, and contains low amounts of THC, the compound in cannabis that gets people “high.”
Jerri Lyne Nachman, a cannabis advocate and educator, said in a statement that the move by the Trump administration could lead to an “explosion” of CBD products that could treat everything from epilepsy, inflammation, hyperactivity and other ailments.
“With Canada legalizing cannabis nationwide in October, 2018 and the 2018 U.S. farm Bill completely removing hemp from the DEA’s controlled substance list, the stage has been set for an explosion of products ranging from functional foods and supplements to CBD-based Biopharma, Phytoceuticals (plant-based) and Nutriceuticals (medicinal uses of plants and herbs) into a projected $22+ billion industry,” Nachman said in a statement.
Whether local farmers step into the hemp industry depends on several things, said Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau.
First, Larson said, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will regulate hemp, hasn’t crafted its regulation. Neither has the state, which is in a holding pattern until the federal government releases its regulations. And locales will likely have some regulatory authority over the growth and manufacturing of hemp, Larson added.
Second — and perhaps more importantly — Larson said, will be if growers can turn a profit growing the plant, given the region’s relatively high water costs.
Additionally, processing facilities would need to emerge to complement the agricultural component — you can’t have one without the other, Larson said.
“As an organization, we do support production of commercial hemp,” Larson said. “But we are waiting to hear what the regulations are, see if they trickle down and if growers can do it profitably.”
And while the farm bill declassifies hemp as a controlled substance, the Food and Drug Administration still deems it illegal to sell a food or dietary supplement that contains added CBD or THC in interstate commerce.
The FDA statement said three ingredients derived from hemp — hulled hemp seeds, hemp seed protein and hemp seed oil — are safe as foods and won’t require additional approvals, as long as marketers do not make claims that they treat disease.
“It has a ways to go,” Larson said.
Echter, who unsuccessfully lobbied the city in 2017 to grow cannabis on a section of his property, said that he is not looking into growing hemp, as he’s waiting to see if his property will be included in the city’s affordable housing plans.
He said he promised neighbors that as a trade-off for allowing housing on the property, he wouldn’t pursue cannabis.
“I haven’t looked that hard at it personally here in Encinitas,” Echter said. “That’s not to say that others will.”
Nachman said she has spoken to farmers who have expressed interest in growing hemp. She said the key to them will be to have a well-devised plan on what market they plan to enter.
“They have to have a reason for it, they can’t just grow hemp just to grow it,” Nachman said. “Too many people will get in quick and a lot will fail because they don’t know how to distinguish themselves.”