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The 2018 Farm Bill included language federally legalizing hemp, and the authors of that provision told the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a letter in mid-February 2019 that such policies must be implemented “expeditiously” and “as Congress intended.”

“We specifically drafted the Hemp Farming Act in a way that allows hemp pilot states to build upon the progress and investments made through the pilots established by the 2014 Farm Bill,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden wrote to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue on Feb. 14, 2019, referring to a prior version of the food and agriculture legislation that allowed states to legalize limited hemp research programs.

“Our states have seen tremendous success in researching and developing market opportunities for hemp through the state pilot programs, and we are hopeful that the growth and innovation we've seen through the pilots will continue to expand now that the domestic production of hemp and hemp products is legal,” they said.

The senators specifically recommended that the USDA issue guidance “when necessary” to ensure that hemp businesses are able to legally transfer the crop and products derived from it across state lines. They also need to be able to access banking services, an area in which operators “continue to face challenges,” the senators wrote.

The hemp legalization provision made it so the USDA is responsible for regulating hemp, as opposed to the Justice Department, which oversees illegal drugs — including the crop's cousin, marijuana. State agriculture departments would be the primary regulators if they choose to submit plans to the USDA, which must approve them. But for states that don't opt to submit plans, the USDA must develop a default plan.

“Hemp is a versatile crop with many uses and applications,” McConnell and Wyden wrote. “It is also a commodity that played an important part of our nation's history. We are hopeful that by working with you on the implementation of our legislation, we can help ensure that hemp can be a new cash crop for farmers across the country.”

Wyden also wrote a separate letter to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in January 2019 complaining about “outdated regulations,” which “limit producers from taking full advantage of the industrial hemp market” such as the development of hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) products.

The FDA released a memo shortly after the passage of the Farm Bill indicating that it would continue to take action against hemp companies that make unsanctioned claims about the medical benefits of hemp-derived products and also those that participate in interstate commerce.

However, the agency added that “pathways remain available for the FDA to consider whether there are circumstances in which certain cannabis-derived compounds might be permitted in a food or dietary supplement,” and if it were to pursue those pathways, it could open the door to allowing the “use of a pharmaceutical ingredient in a food or dietary supplement.”

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