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Hemp industry backing CBD products legislation

Hemp seedlings grow in trays at Whitaker Farms and Garden Center in Climax, N.C.
Hemp seedlings grow in trays at Whitaker Farms and Garden Center in Climax, N.C.(Gerry Broome/Associated Press)

Stung by recent policy pronouncements that have put the legality of hemp-derived CBD products in limbo, a coalition of Massachusetts hemp farmers is supporting a new bill to clarify the ability to sell CBD products and says the state needs to do more to protect the hemp industry.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is derived from the cannabis plant and is commonly extracted from hemp. The non-psychoactive component is said to deliver therapeutic benefits like calming anxiety without impairing the user. CBD products are not directly regulated by the state, and many local health and police departments do not take action against retailers that carry them. CBD products are widely available online.

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The state Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), which regulates the growing of hemp, last month issued guidance that effectively outlawed the sale of food products containing CBD, any product containing CBD that makes therapeutic claims, any product with hemp as a dietary supplement, and any animal feed with hemp products.

Late last month, former Marijuana Policy Committee chairman Representative Mark Cusack filed a bill (HD 4339) that would declare CBD products “are not considered controlled substances or adulterants,” that food products containing CBD “are to be considered foods, not controlled substances or adulterated products,” and that would allow hemp-derived CBD products to be made and sold in Massachusetts. Cusack’s bill on Monday was referred to the House Committee on Rules.

“This bill provides a good starting point to address the immediate concerns related to the recent MDAR statement. By consulting with Massachusetts stakeholders, NOFA/Mass and the MASS Hemp Coalition are confident we can contribute recommendations to strengthen the bill in order to protect the broader hemp economy in Massachusetts, including our farmers,” said Marty Dagoberto, policy director and outreach coordinator of the Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter.

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According to the coalition, there are more than 100 farmers licensed to grow hemp in Massachusetts this year, and all but one grows hemp for CBD production.

The US Hemp Roundtable, a non-profit organization that advocates for the hemp industry at the federal level, said Cusack’s bill “largely reflects the important concepts contained in the Roundtable’s Model State Bill, providing some of the strongest hemp and CBD protections in the country.”

The MASS Hemp Coalition said it will share its recommendations directly with Cusack and the Cannabis Policy Committee, but said it is focused on securing greater protections for local small businesses selling CBD products, which have to rely on interpretations of their local boards of health and largely unregulated competition from online sellers.

“We need stronger protections for our retail and state-wide industry immediately, without halting current progress towards finding an immediate solution through Bill HD.4339,” said Laura Beohner, co-founder and president of The Healing Rose, a CBD company based in Newburyport. “Some coalition members have already [been] impacted, we need a community-wide solution immediately to stop hurting our small local businesses, particularly our local retailers.”

The MDAR guidance came on the heels of an opinion from the US Food and Drug Administration that CBD cannot be added to food and dietary supplements and state Department of Public Health guidance also prohibiting the sale of any product containing CBD oils derived from hemp.

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On Monday, the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy sent a note to its licensees advising them to review the guidance and opinions released by MDAR and the FDA, and to contact those agencies directly with questions about the sale of CBD products. A variety of products made from hemp — hemp seed, protein, clothing, and other items made from hemp fiber — are approved for sale in Massachusetts.