A recently proposed California bill has lawmakers considering if hemp extracts should be legally allowed in food and drinks. However, the bill would involve one step forward and another step back, since it also includes a ban on smokable hemp flower.
“It’s one of the worst horse trades I’ve seen,” Chris Boucher told Hemp Industry Daily. Boucher is the CEO of Farmtiva, a hemp greenhouse business in California.
The bill would also set testing requirements for hemp products to ensure that they do not have more than 0.3% THC, and set regulations for hemp products.
Boucher reportedly explained that banning smokable hemp flower could hurt small farms, but he acknowledged that part of the bill has some merit because it would allow hemp products to be sold legally throughout California.
This could serve to better level the playing field between hemp businesses and marijuana businesses, which currently operate within very different legal landscapes.
“We’re selling [hemp products] in grocery stores and gas stations and headshops — unregulated. And you flip the page over to marijuana and they’re selling cannabinoids too, but theirs are all regulated,” Boucher said.
Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, who is carrying the bill, reportedly believes that by allowing hemp extracts in food and drinks, lawmakers can help improve the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, she introduced a similar bill, which did not pass because lawmakers ran out of time to vote on it before the end of session. At that time, Hemp Industry Daily reported that several hemp producers cheered its failure because the bill’s “requirements were too onerous for products made from a legal crop.”
However, the ban on smokable hemp flower is new to this year’s bill. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration reportedly requested that this provision be included.
“I need to be mindful that if the administration doesn’t buy in and we go through committees, I don’t want my bill vetoed,” Aguiar-Curry said.
California lawmakers are not the first to consider a prohibition on smokable hemp flower, a product which is already prohibited in several states. Indiana and Texas are two other states expected to take a closer look at smokable hemp laws this year.
Indiana lawmakers criminalized smokable hemp in 2019. Indiana hemp companies challenged this action, and later that year, a federal judge in the state put an injunction on the law. However, the law became enforceable again in 2020 when a federal appeals court overturned the injunction and sent the case back to the district court for additional proceedings.
Texas lawmakers are also wrestling with their laws regarding smokable hemp. When the Lone Star State legalized hemp in 2019, it specifically prohibited the manufacture of hemp products that are intended to be smoked or vaped. A year later, the ban was extended to include the sale of any smokable hemp products, including those manufactured in other states.
Shortly after this change, four hemp producers sued the state, which resulted in a temporary injunction. This injunction keeps the state from enforcing the ban until the conclusion of a trial. The next trial date was recently rescheduled from Feb. 1, 2021, to March 22, 2021.
According to media reports, leadership in both Indiana and Texas share concerns over how to enforce marijuana prohibition if the smokable hemp prohibition is lifted. Hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the cannabis plant, so they have a similar smell and appearance. The main difference is that hemp contains very little THC and does not get consumers high, the way THC-rich marijuana does.
Hemp businesses in both states reportedly oppose hemp prohibitions and cite lost sales and stifled growth as major concerns.
The lawsuit between Texas hemp growers and their state reportedly claims, “smokable hemp commands by far the highest price per pound at wholesale of any form of farmed hemp (up to $1,000 per pound for high quality hemp flower and $2,600 per pound for refined tetrahydrocannibinol-free distillate) and is the most lucrative way for hemp farmers to market their raw materials.”
Smokable hemp flower might be a lucrative product for farmers and an economy-boosting product during the pandemic, but its similarities to marijuana seem to be causing ongoing challenges that could force the product back into prohibition. California, Indiana, and Texas could be deciding the fate of this product in their states this year. However, for now, the future of smokable hemp flower in these states remains unclear.