A federal hemp lobbyist gives the forecast for this year’s planting season and describes the potential storms brewing on hemp’s horizon.

The 2018 planting season is upon us, and promises to bring another historic harvest. Thousands of acres of federally legal hemp are now being cultivated and new supply chains are bringing wholesome American hemp product to market. Finally, years of grassroots activism are paying off.

But just as a farmer faces a slew of uncertainty after they plant their seeds for the season, so too is the hemp industry facing a year of unknowns. Farmers must endure torrential rains and spring storms, but the biggest threat isn’t the weather — it’s legal challenges. Here is the forecast for the upcoming season, as it looks now.

State Growth

In 2014, prior to the passage of the Farm Bill, ten states had passed hemp legislation. Less than a year later, it had doubled to 20 states ready to grow. Today, at least 34 states have hemp laws, and more than 20 have active programs.

In 2015, the first season of legal hemp, seven states planted hemp: Colorado, Kentucky, Hawaii, Indiana, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont. Colorado harvested around 2,300 acres and Kentucky planted 922 acres; ultimately around 4,000 acres were harvested this first legal season.

The following year, America more than doubled its hemp harvest to 9,649 acres in 15 states, with participation from 30 universities and 817 hemp licenses issued. The increase in states, universities and acreage showed that the industry was on a strong course for success, which was validated by another year of exponential year in 2017.

When hemp is fully legal, it could open the floodgates, pushing out some small producers to make room for larger corporations.

Last year, more than 25,000 acres of hemp were grown across 19 states, in 32 universities, with 1,456 licenses. We finally have 25,000 acres to match the potential 25,000 uses of hemp (as asserted by a famous Popular Mechanics article in 1938). Judging by this growth trend, 2018 will be our most productive year yet.

Is America Ready for Hemp?

While 2018 holds promise, challenges exist on the horizon. On January 4th, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama-era “Cole Memo,” a toothless act that doesn’t affect hemp, but still foreshadows speed bumps ahead.

For example, at an event in February, the undersecretary for the USDA Greg Ibach said, “Opening the door [to hemp] nationwide, with no restrictions, may not be in the best interests of the hemp industry” and reiterated the federal Department of Justice’s jurisdiction over hemp.

Hemp-Derived CBD Storm Brewing

On February 12, authorities in Tennessee raided 23 stores and confiscated hemp CBD products in what they called “Operation Candy Crush.” All charges were later dismissed. In Indiana, similar raids occurred with CBD vendors, until the state’s governor signed a law in March reiterating that selling CBD is legal. While these cases both ended in victory, they sent a chill through the industry and illustrated the power of anti-hemp forces and misinformation.

Just three days after Operation Candy Crush, a major court heard oral arguments in Hemp Industries Association v. DEA, a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate the DEA’s classification of CBD under the ‘Marihuana Extract Rule.’ Attorney Robert Hoban, with added support from 28 members of Congress, represented the hemp industry well, but the judges still seemed confused by the complexity and immediacy of the CBD issue. [Editor’s Note: On April 30, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the DEA could classify CBD as a controlled substance.]

The turbulence and challenges with CBD may just be beginning. GW Pharmaceuticals’ new drug, Epidiolex, which is essentially a CBD extract, has been under review by the FDA for years. On Feb. 27, the European Medicines Agency granted the drug approval to treat a rare tumor disorder. If Epidiolex is approved by the FDA in late June as anticipated, the federal government could increase enforcement against CBD companies not approved by the FDA, which is to say, everyone besides GW Pharmaceuticals.

Heavy Rains for a Robust Crop

Despite the challenges, I believe that hemp’s forecast is good and the industry will weather the storms. While we have ongoing challenges, they pale in comparison to our progress. Because of the Farm Act of 2014, American farmers, researchers and businesses will plant tens of thousands of acres of hemp this year.

Even without full legal status, we can still build and develop our industry, supply chains and credibility. In fact, as long as hemp is not fully legal, we actually have our foot in the door to the great opportunity to build the industry we want, without influence from gigantic corporations. Hemp is now only available for the true hemp entrepreneurs — the small farmers and the enterprising individuals that make the hemp industry so vibrant and dynamic.

When hemp is fully legal, it could open the floodgates, pushing out some small producers to make room for larger corporations. This growing season, we should stay focused on developing the best hemp industry we can and pushing forward long-term values and visions. The planting season is now, so let’s get out there and grow some hemp!

Originally published in HEMP’s Issue 3. SUBSCRIBE HERE.

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