hemp field
Photo: MexChriss / Shutterstock

By Geoffrey Taylor, MA, Hemp Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Geoffrey Taylor
Geoffrey Taylor, MA

As 2021 presents a wealth of new opportunities for California hemp operators, new regulatory and industry developments are shining bright for bountiful harvests and meaningful change in an industry rife with rapid change in regulation, legislation and best practices. Growers and operators throughout California can rest assured that while 2021 may be another challenging year, the potential benefits outweigh the uncertainty that followed a hemp market crash in early 2020.

“The industry is setting the stage for good things to come and with that, we can expect some major changes at both the state and federal levels,” said Travis Copeland, founder of Unico Ag Services. “New marketplaces are opening up for CBD and other hemp-derived cannabinoids and exciting new industrial uses for hemp are starting to emerge.”

According to a December 2020 article from Hemp News Daily, growers in Arizona are experimenting with integrating hemp greens into their annual rotation of salad crops, using microgreens from sprouted hemp plants to explore their viability as an ingredient in salad mixes. According to researchers from the University of Arizona, hemp baby greens are being produced for taste-testing and out of 17 varietals sampled, five varietals have shown to be popular as a baby green following an 18-day grow cycle from seed to salad.

On another front, many hemp industry operators who manufacture hemp cannabinoid derivatives such as distillate which is often used in vaporizer cartridges, may be subject to compliance with the recently passed PACT Act, or Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act, as a means to prevent shipping of vaporizer or smokeable products to potential underage buyers. While hemp does not qualify as a tobacco product, hemp products that can be smoked or vaporized may be subject to enforcement by the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. While the act does not take effect until late-March 2021, it has left many in the hemp industry wondering exactly what this might mean for products such as smokeable hemp flower and hemp CBD vaporizer cartridges, both of which are popular products in the consumer marketplace.

“When we look at the industry as a whole, we have to break down our operations into what exactly it is we’re doing and how best to comply with the specific regulations in that facet of the hemp space,” said Copeland. “Growers have different compliance standards for production than those who process or manufacture goods or products for the consumer.”

Another surprising development for those engaged in California’s racehorse training field is a recent release from the California Horse Racing Board providing trainers with a warning to avoid using CBD-infused products on horses involved or engaged actively in horse racing in California. Trainers can be subject to the potential of suspensions of up to three years and fines ranging between $10,000 to $25,000 along with having to forfeit any earnings collected from racing while CBD was used on the horse. While the United States Equestrian Federation currently bans the use of CBD in horses, more research into the effects of CBD on horses is needed to determine efficacy and any potential long-term side effects on the animals.

While the use of CBD in racehorses is currently banned in California, there has been substantial traction in creating a regulatory framework for the use of CBD in food and beverage products. California legislators have introduced AB45, or Industrial Hemp Products bill, that would allow for the use of CBD and other hemp-derived cannabinoids in food, beverage, cosmetic and pet products, implementing a robust regulatory framework for an industry that is largely unregulated at the state level. With CBD products available at everything from gas stations or posh boutiques, this new bill would allow for the legal sale of CBD products in the state. Under this new bill, all hemp derived cannabinoid products would be deemed a dietary supplement and would be subject to both state and federal regulation from the United States Food and Drug Administration.

“Overall, California growers are going to see increased profitability and market potential moving closer to 2022 and beyond. We’re building our marketplace and with California being an expensive place to operate, coupled with new compliance standards and regulations, it’s going to be an interesting but productive year here,” said Copeland. “With a lot of patience and a focus on building market share, compliance is the key to driving lasting success in the hemp space moving forward.”

Whatever 2021 holds for California hemp producers, processors, extractors and industry operators, the continuous flow of regulatory change and subsequent compliance matters assures growers of the need to pay close attention to the legislative climate surrounding the industry. As California continues to find new and interesting ways to insert state influence into the marketplace, industry operators statewide can expect more changes around every corner as they move through 2021.