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

Geoffrey Taylor
Geoffrey Taylor, MA

As growers, operators and entrepreneurs in the cannabis and hemp space have experienced immense change over the course of 2020, the new year holds immense uncertainty but presents the potential for a stronger economic outlook for those who are holding tight in a rapidly shifting legal and regulatory environment.

Recent developments across the country have cannabis and hemp industry operators excited for the prospects of a streamlined and clearer path to fully compliant and legal operations. Though 2020 has presented significant economic challenges to many in the hemp industry from growers to processors, the cannabis industry was deemed an essential industry in California and many other legal states and has grown immensely over 2020.

Potentially the biggest development in December was the passage of the MORE Act, or The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act (HR 3884 / S. 2227), as a bipartisan effort in the House of Representatives. The Act seeks to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, allow for university level research into cannabis, create a 5 percent nationwide taxation on cannabis products, and provide cannabis businesses with better access to banking, insurance and credit card processing abilities.

Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was a co-sponsor of the bill and publicly noted “I’m also deeply troubled that the current policy the federal government inhibits research into cannabis, research that could unlock cures and help people live better lives. My republican colleagues today will make a number of arguments against this bill, but those arguments are overwhelmingly losing with the American people,” according to a December 2020 article from The Hill.

Even if the MORE Act does not pass the Senate, it has the potential to spark a larger conversation about cannabis and hemp as drivers of economic growth in states that have legal marketplaces.

“With the recent changes in the legal status of cannabis in states across the US, it can definitely benefit hemp producers if regulations continue to ease on maximum THC levels in hemp crops,” said Travis Copeland, owner of Unico Ag Services. “But with hemp, the genetics have stabilized substantially since the roll out of the Farm Bill and most crops shouldn’t exceed any current or future maximum levels for THC content in CBD hemp.”

Another major development for hemp producers across California and beyond was a recent United States Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, Research Conference on Cannabinoids which brought leading hemp CBD experts together digitally to acknowledge the many gaps in research on cannabinoids, specifically CBD, and brought many new questions regarding the efficacy of CBD for a variety of health conditions, potential therapeutic treatments along with recreational uses.

According to a November 30 article from Hemp News Daily, much of the current research is being driven by consumer demand for safety and consistency in labeling of CBD products and states that, “Government agencies are funding numerous projects focused on cannabidiol, THC and minor cannabinoids, seeking to understand how they work when used together and with conventional drugs.”

“High CBD hemp crops should almost never exceed the current THC limits in the 2018 Farm Bill,” said Copeland. “But the role of CBD in hemp is critical because it exists in such high concentrations but in combination with other cannabinoids which might be of research value to identify their benefits.”

With all the recent changes across California and the nation, five more states across the country have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, or both. Since California legalized cannabis in 2016, this recent wave of states includes Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota and New Jersey, where cannabis can now be accessible to adults over the age of 21. As of the time of publication, approximately 15 states allow for recreational adult use of cannabis and 36 more states allow for the medical use of cannabis. Over two-thirds of American states have cannabis laws allowing adults to use and possess the plant in varying contexts depending upon the laws of their respective state.

“Legalization only helps to ground the hemp industry even more and allow for both hemp and cannabis farmers to collaborate in more research on the plant with highly respected universities across America,” said Copeland. “It’s important to keep in mind that we have to chart the right path as a country toward legalization and toward the research side of better understanding how these plants can benefit people.”

Moving forward into 2021 allows cannabis and hemp business operators to anticipate even more change as they grow and shift their businesses to adapt. With more legislative and regulatory changes anticipated not only at the county level, but at the state and federal level, hemp and cannabis operators have to pay attention to the ever-shifting tides of these industries.

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