California Weed

Farm Bill could mean big bucks, legalization for hemp industry

With the expected approval from President Donald Trump, the 2018 Farm Bill could open the doors to making industrial hemp a multibillion dollar crop in the U.S.

The massive $867 billion spending bill that funds everything from food assistance programs to crop research was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate earlier this month. It awaits the president’s signature that could come soon.

Tucked inside the Farm Bill are several provisions that clear the way to making industrial hemp a regular agricultural crop. The bill removes it from the list of controlled substances and legalizes its production for the first time since 1937.

Hemp growers and processors hail the legislation saying it provides a major growth opportunity for what has been a boutique industry. Experts predict industrial hemp and the myriad products it can be made into could generate revenue in excess of $20 billion annually by 2020.

“From a business opportunity perspective, with industrial hemp now treated like any other agricultural product we expect several key roadblocks that have slowed growth to be removed, namely free access to the federal U.S. banking system, unrestricted interstate commerce, and access to federally backed farm support programs...,” said Alexander M. Salgado, chief executive officer of SanSal Wellness, a Colorado grower and processor of industrial hemp.

Salgado, in a statement, said the possibility also exists for hemp producers to be able to leverage more mainstream online and brick-and-mortar distribution channels like Amazon, Walmart, drugs stores and wellness clinics.

California farmers are poised to jump on the industrial hemp train. The California Department of Food and Agriculture is in the process of finalizing the regulations that will allow for the growing of hemp in the state. The public has until Dec. 24 to submit written comments.

Among the hemp products already starting to take off is CBD, or cannabinoid, a chemical compound that comes from the hemp plant. Supporters of CBD products say it is a remedy for pain relief, anxiety and inflammation.

Brandon Hardin, an affiliate with Harvey and Mike’s CBD Oil, said legalization of hemp products will go a long way towards changing the perception of what hemp is and isn’t.

Industrial hemp has a very low level of the chemical compound that makes you high, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. By law, the THC level of industrial hemp must be at or below 0.3 percent of THC. By comparison, some strains of marijuana can vary from 10 percent to 20 percent levels of THC .

Harvey and Mike’s sells oils, creams, hemp-infused coffee, CBD coffee cream, and CBD dog treats made by HempWorx. Several of the products also come with zero levels of THC for people who are subject to regular drug screening.

The company’s hemp is currently grown in Kentucky where hemp farming requires a license issued by the state’s agriculture department. Hardin said that with the change in federal law, the company is looking at states like California, to potentially expand its farming operation.

“I think the Farm Bill will increase growth in the CBD industry in multiple ways,” Hardin said. “The fact that there will be more research done on the applications of CBD will be huge. Also, I think the bill will remove the stigma associated with CBD and create a situation where people will begin to do research on their own.”

Several San Joaquin Valley farmers have also expressed an interest in growing hemp for oil and fiber. And a Southern California-based manufacturer said he may build a factory in southwest Fresno County to make particle board out of hemp.

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A Valley native, Robert has worked at The Fresno Bee since 1994, covering various topics including education, business and agriculture. He currently covers courts.