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Ohio hemp farmers want CBD regulation, FDA says there needs to be more oversight

A row of hemp plants at the Ohio Hemp Company farm in New Carlisle, Ohio.
Trevor Richardson
A row of hemp plants at the Ohio Hemp Company farm in New Carlisle, Ohio.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced food products infused with CBD don’t meet federal safety standards and is asking Congress to intervene.

The announcement comes five years after the federal government legalized the cultivation of hemp through the 2018 Farm Bill.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol or CBD is one of hundreds of compounds that can be extracted from the hemp plant. By federal definition, hemp is considered hemp only if it contains less than 0.3% THC — the active chemical in marijuana.

The crop can be grown for several uses, like grain, fiber or CBD. Studies claim CBD can alleviate anxiety, seizures or chronic pain.

In Ohio,hemp was legalized in 2019, the news was welcomed by medical cannabis advocates and farming groups. The Ohio Farm Bureau even said the crop had the potential to be Ohio's third ranking crop behind corn and soy.

CBD raises safety concerns

But the FDArecently announcedCBD in food products raises a lot of safety concerns, like how much is safe to consume or for how long.

The federal agency is particularly concerned about its potential to harm the liver, the male reproductive organ and its effect on children or pregnant people.

“Given the available evidence, it is not apparent how CBD products could meet safety standards for dietary supplements or food additives.” said Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner in a statement.

Justin Helt, one of the co-founders of the Ohio Hemp Company, a farm in New Carlisle, said the federal ruling is disappointing.

“We were all hopeful the FDA would give an approval here. But their non-decision is not necessarily surprising,” Helt said. “And at the moment, we don't really see it changing a whole lot for farmers or most of the industry. It just doesn't move the industry forward.”

Helt along with his business partner, Trevor Richardson, designed their business model early on in 2019 anticipating their primary customers to be CBD food and beverage manufacturers.

“That was a big hot topic at the time, and there was a huge belief that there was going to be some great framework and safety measures put up to allow us to start to create these products and these services. And it just never came.” Richardson said.

Lack of federal regulation

Due to the lack of federal regulation, several states like Ohio, carved out their own rules and standards for CBD products. In Ohio, the state's department of agriculture allows CBD gummies, baked goods or beverages.

Although Craig Schluttenhofer, a Central State University hemp researcher, said it’s a vastly unregulated market and that creates an uneven playing field for producers.

“You don't know what you're going to get. Some of those products either don’t contain the level of CBD they said they would or some of them don't even contain CBD at all,” Schluttenhofer said. “Without those regulatory oversight, there's a lack of knowing the quality of what you're buying.”

Brandy Phipps, a Central State University professor who’s leading a hemp research study with Schluttenhofer, said although the recent FDA ruling might be frustrating to the industry, it’s worth understanding where the agency is coming from.

“They're concerned primarily with consumer health. And if they're going to create a regulatory framework, they need to do it from a place of data,” Phipps said “And so if they don't have data and they don't have a significant amount of it, then perhaps it would be unwise for them to make blanket general regulations over anything.”

For now, states like Ohio will still allow CBD in food products through their own regulations. The FDA is now asking Congress to pass new regulations for its use.

Helt said he sees that as an opportunity to work with policymakers to create a regulatory framework that works for producers and consumers.

“This could actually be beneficial for us because we have the ability to communicate and honestly the responsibility to communicate with our representatives who will now be responsible for creating those guidelines and regulations.” Helt said.

Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. 

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America — a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Alejandro particularly covers the lack of access to healthy and affordable food in Southwest Ohio communities, and what local government and nonprofits are doing to address it. He also covers rural and urban farming

Email: afigueroa@wyso.org
Phone: 937-917-5943