Nine members of congress sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) this week asking them to change their current proposal for hemp regulations.

In August of this year the DEA released an interim final rule (IFR) on the hemp crop. It was an attempt to follow the 2018 Farm Bill as close to the letter as they could. This was met with resistance and some very serious concern from hemp producers, stakeholders, and hemp advocates.

Due to a technicality in the law, certain processors could be at risk of violating federal law. In the IFR, the DEA proposes a regulation stipulating that “any such material that contains greater than 0.3% of Δ9-THC on a dry weight basis remains controlled in schedule I.” During the extraction of cannabinoids from the hemp plant, the THC levels in the plant temporarily exceed 0.3%. So, while the extraction itself has been fully legalised, one small portion of the process may become a federal crime.

In an odd turn of events, the nine members of Congress who signed the bill were Republicans. While they don’t tend to be the most forgiving bunch of people when it comes to anything derive from cannabis, it seems that when it comes to the restriction of private business, they are all over it. The letter was led by Reps. David Joyce (R-OH) and Denver Riggleman (R-VA). Reps. Rodney Davis (R-IL), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Glenn Grothman (R-WI), Don Young (R-AK), Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) also signed the letter.

One important passage from the letter states,

“Our offices have received countless calls from constituents involved in the hemp industry who are extremely fearful that simply following the provisions of the Farm Bill will result in criminal liability under the IFR. The IFR will likely have the effect of inhibiting these nascent state hemp programs thereby harming those American companies and workers who chose to pursue careers in the hemp industry and made significant investments to effectuate those aspirations.”

During the public comment period on the IFR, the DEA received over 3,000 different comments, most of them focused on the ambiguity of the hemp production process.

Nearly a third of the comments were concerned about the ambiguity around the phrasing of “synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain schedule I controlled substances”. Because of the fuzzy wording in the IFR, this phrase could not only include Δ9-THC, the federally illegal and psychoactive component of marijuana, but also Δ8-THC, a far less common tetrahydrocannabinol that could present numerous medical benefits. Δ8-THC is derived from CBD using a catalyst, this could technically be described as synthetically derived and therefore illegal.

Whether or not the DEA is actively trying to criminalise the production of hemp and CBD, it seems like lawmakers are not taking the agency at face value. In a rare move, it looks like the Republicans are trying to help the little guy.

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