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Audience Questions: When Things Go Wrong Episode 22: Decoding the Hemp Landscape: Challenges, Regulations, and Future Opportunities

In this episode, moderator Bethany Moore and David Vaillencourt, CEO of The GMP Collective, were joined by expert panelists Jonathan Miller of U.S. Hemp Roundtable, Erica Stark of the National Hemp Association, and Ray Kaderli of the U.S. Hemp Building Association. 

You can watch the full webinar recording here on our YouTube channel.

We received a large number of excellent questions both prior to and throughout the webinar and have compiled answers to as many of them as possible. Some of the questions may have been lightly edited for clarity.

Disclaimer: The answers provided reflect the perspectives of the panelists or their organization, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The GMP Collective.

 

I’m interested in hemp-based bioplastics for use in healthcare settings especially for replacing plastic disposables. The cost is an issue among other things. Do you have any insight on this and how we can drive the cost down to be competitive with traditional plastics?

Erica: When talking about topics like bioplastics and biofuels it is important to acknowledge that in most cases these applications are feedstock agnostic, although due to industrial hemp’s properties it is often a superior feedstock for these applications. But as with all things in the bioeconomy, scalability is going to be the primary driver in bringing costs down. We will likely see some additional resources and incentives for the overall bioeconomy in the next farm bill which hopefully help drive investment and  benefit the hemp industry.

Is there a trusted source that helps consumers identify the good actors in the hemp space? I’m seeing an uptick in online purchases of hemp beverages in Maryland, and I’d love some authoritative guidance on who manufactures using cGMP, tests their product, etc.

David: In the current marketplace, differentiating between the diverse array of product offerings can be incredibly challenging. We recommend that you always do your due diligence when selecting a product. Respected storefronts with a national presence typically are more risk averse and will have done due diligence before placing products on their shelves, while one off stores often have not. Additionally, review the labels on the packaging. Is it obvious who the brand is and where it was made? Are they transparent about how much CBD or other cannabinoids are in the container? You can also look for marks of trust like independent certifications. The US Hemp Authority is the industry’s self-regulatory organization, and there are others that have developed independent certifications based on voluntary consensus standards. These products should denote what Certification they passed and who the auditing body was. 

Be skeptical of products that say “made in a GMP or FDA Compliant Facility” or other similar language. These are purely marketing and have no independent validation.

Question for Erica & Jonathan. I congratulate you both for your organization’s efforts!  We are cultivators out of NC and we manufacture goods with GMP certification, etc. and we have NEVER been interested in psychoactive/synthetic cannabinoids. What is the likelihood of an expansion of the cannabis category within the new farm bill with perhaps 3 categories – psychoactive, non-psychoactive and industrial.  I find that value add producers like ourselves who are only interested in non-psychoactive cannabinoids are caught in a weird space.  Any insight or suggestions?

Erica: Unfortunately I believe there are challenges with definitions that make the further distinction of cannabinoid products difficult. As an example, we commonly say that CBD is non-psychoactive but some argue that because it affects mood, it technically it is psychoactive although not intoxicating. Further whether something is naturally occurring or synthetic doesn’t have any bearing on whether a particular substance is psychoactive or intoxicating. For these and other reasons,  I personally think it is ill-advised to try and address these manufacturing issues through the farm bill which is only meant to regulate cultivation. We really need congress to step up and provide a clear and complete science based regulatory framework for the FDA to properly regulate all of these products regardless of their source material. Even with CBD, taking the intoxicating cannabinoids out of the equation, the industry has been forced to operate in a weird space.The products are certainly legal, in terms of not being controlled substances, but technically is has bever been lawful for CBD to be used in food and beverages as they aren’t approved ingredients and they also can’t be marketed as supplements. This is not fair to the industry who is trying to do things the right way. While I am grateful for the progress that has been made and the way the market has been able to grow since the 2014 farm bill, it is long past time to remove the ambiguity and gray areas. Business and consumers alike need clarity, protection and a fully legal pathway with reasonable regulations. (Keyword, reasonable)

Jonathan: We are hopeful that Congress will this year or next develop a regulatory structure for all hemp extracts, non-intoxicating and adult use.

When a hemp building material, such as hempcrete is manufactured, will the natural compounds like the cannabinoids, and contaminants such as toxic metals and pesticides leach form these materials?

Erica: The short answer to this is no. Despite hemp being a hyper-accumulator, preliminary research shows that both cannabinoids and contaminants are primarily stored in the flower and leaves which are not used in construction materials. The caveat would be that in the case where hemp is grown on highly contaminated land (ie specifically planted for remediation) as opposed to traditional farm land used to grow other crops, more testing may be required to verify that there is no danger of leaching 

When a piece of clothing, such as a shirt or a dress is manufactured, will the natural compounds like the cannabinoids, and contaminants such as toxic metals and pesticides leach from these materials?


Erica: The short answer to this is no. Despite hemp being a hyper-accumulator, preliminary research shows that both cannabinoids and contaminants are primarily stored in the flower and leaves which are not used in textiles. The caveat would be that in the case where hemp is grown on highly contaminated land (i.e. specifically planted for remediation) as opposed to traditional farm land used to grow other crops, more testing may be required to verify that there is no danger of leaching. 

Concerning hemp animal feed, will the feed be tested for animal pathogens, pesticides, and toxic metals?


Erica: Hemp as a feed ingredient will be subject to all the same testing and control levels as any other approved animal feed ingredient.

What is the timeline for developing the processing infrastructure to accommodate “millions” of acres of hemp production?

Erica: That really depends on a lot of factors such as what type of industrial hemp is being grown. As an example, if hemp biomass were to begin to be grown on a massive scale for biofuels it could happen relatively quickly as it wouldn’t need to wait for specific investments in processing facilities for decortication. In looking at decortication a facility could take 2 years to be built and likely a few more to get to capacity and one facility would likely be able to support around 15k local acres. If I were to guess, I would say we are likely 10 years out from millions of acres with slow and steady progress between here and there.

For the cannabinoid products that are consumed, such as CBD and CBG full spectrum preparations, do you feel that these products should be tested for the human pathogens that cause FDA, food recalls, such as Salmonella species, shiga producing E. coli, and Listeria.

David: Yes. Hemp and cannabinoid products should be held to the same minimum standards as anything else we digest. Products should be free of pathogens and any other contaminant that could harm the end consumer. Good Manufacturing Practices have been a proven system to mitigate these risks, along with final product testing. All manufacturers should be evaluating what biological, chemical, and physical risks could be introduced to their products, have a plan to control these risks, and a means to monitor and verify that they are not in the final product.  

Question for Ray and Erica – if more collaborative pilot projects are being discussed as vehicles for cross-pollinating and sharpening our collective tools on these quality issues. Say, a VA Hemphouse project.

Erica: I have not heard of a VA Hemphouse project, but it would definitely be a great idea! We had a hemp home project here in PA and it was a great educational tool and also helped to collect important data.

Is anyone gathering all the current established available standards globally and trying to formulate US standards?

David: Yes. One of the requirements of standards setting bodies is to collaborate and avoid areas of redundancy as this inherently creates unnecessary barriers to conducting trade. ASTM International is the leading standards development organization that has created Committee D37 on Cannabis, providing a forum for all interested stakeholders across the cannabis, cannabinoid, and hemp marketplace to coordinate and create minimum standards. The Committee currently has over 800 members across nearly 40 countries and works closely with international trade associations to ensure alignment and collaboration between the varying needs of global stakeholders.

Speaking of Banking:  Do you have recommendations for hemp friendly banks?

David: There are many banks that are friendly to the hemp industry. Making a decision on who to trust to hold and manage your money is something that you should do careful due diligence on, as every business needs are slightly unique. That said, we are aware of several banks that support the industry – including but not limited to Dart Bank, Esquire Bank, First Citizens, and Safe Harbor Financial.

Does FDA allow states to regulate CBD in supplements if no component of product or packaging crosses state lines?

Erica: States are doing it and the FDA is mostly not interfering, but I don’t believe it is accurate to say FDA expressly allows it.

David: More information on the FDA’s current thinking can be found on their website here.

Question for Jonathan, You’ve had the US Hemp Authority’s program, and The GMP Collective is active in leading the development of voluntary consensus standards through ASTM International. Despite this, the ‘bad guys’ without quality assurance persist. And with states trying to fill this gap in FDA oversight, we have issues with, for example, labeling, as Jonathan mentioned.  So – how do we fix that? Consumers need to be able to identify the good actors in the hemp space!

Jonathan:  We need Congress to come in and develop a regulatory structure for hemp extracts. We are hopeful this will happen this year or next.

David: This is something the FDA has also made explicitly clear in its announcement in early 2023 which can be read here.

Are hemp-derived cannabinoids sticking around for good?

Erica: In short, yes. This segment of the industry is too important and too many consumers rely on these products for them to be taken away. It is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when and how’ these products will be regulated.

How do you separate “hemp” from “products containing cannabinoids”?

Erica: We will accomplish this by having a legal definition of industrial hemp (hemp purpose grown for fiber, grain and/or microgreens. The current draft of the House Farm Bill has this included as a result of our advocacy and introduction of the Industrial Hemp Act (S980/HR3755)

Thanks again to everyone who tuned in. Catch up on all of our past webinar episodes on our YouTube channel, and be sure to register for our next webinar in July.