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Navigating Hemp THC Beverages

Nonalcoholic beverages infused with delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) derived from hemp (aka intoxicating hemp beverages) are becoming increasingly popular for consumers looking for an alternative to alcohol.

With major alcohol retailers like Total Wine entering the cannabis space, alcohol beverage producers may be looking for opportunities to leverage their existing experience in manufacturing, marketing and distributing alcohol beverages towards the emerging intoxicating hemp beverage market. While intoxicating hemp beverages are arguably legal pursuant to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill), risks remain under federal and state food and drug laws. Accordingly, beverage producers looking to enter this emerging market should become familiar with the ambiguities involved.

Federal Treatment of Intoxicating Hemp Beverages

The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp, defined as cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.) and derivatives of cannabis with extremely low concentrations of delta-9 THC (specifically, no more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis), from the definition of “marijuana” in the Controlled Substances Act. The federal government defines hemp as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” Accordingly, products that meet the definition of “hemp” may be marketed and sold in the United States and are no longer classified under federal law as illegal drugs.

How Is Hemp Regulated?

Under the 2018 Farm Bill, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been assigned to regulate hemp production.

However, any hemp-derived foods, including beverages, are subject to regulation by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FDCA). While the FDA has largely avoided enforcement actions against such products, focusing most of its efforts on products making unsubstantiated medical and therapeutic claims, it has clearly concluded that it is a prohibited act under federal law to introduce any food in the market to which THC or cannabidiol (CBD) has been added. Therefore, the risk of federal enforcement remains until the agency changes its stance towards THC as a beverage additive.

State Regulation

While the federal government has been inactive in this space, the legal status of intoxicating hemp beverage products varies significantly by state. On the one hand, several states, including Minnesota, have expressly legalized the inclusion of hemp-derived cannabinoids in beverage products, with clear regulations regarding testing, labeling, advertising and more. On the other hand, some states have legalized hemp beverage products but lack a robust regulatory framework – leading to a mostly unregulated, laissez-faire market.

Further, many states fall into a grey area when it comes to the legality of such products. Some of these states have legalized hemp along the lines of the 2018 Farm Bill but have not officially opined on whether it can be added to beverage products, while others do not mention hemp products at all. A subset of states has expressly legalized hemp [...]

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EPA Approves Use of 10 Pesticide Products on Hemp

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its approval of 10 new pesticides for use on hemp products. EPA’s approval of nine biopesticides and one conventional pesticide provides greater certainty to hemp farmers in time for the 2020 planting season.

The hemp industry awaits further guidance from other federal regulatory agencies.

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USDA Publishes Long-Awaited Interim Regulations Governing the Production of Legalized Hemp

Yesterday, the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its interim final rule setting forth the proposed rules and regulations regarding the production of hemp under the provisions of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, or the “2018 Farm Bill.” As mandated by the 2018 Farm Bill, the proposed regulations outline provisions for both the approval by the USDA of State or Indian Tribe proposed plans as well as the development of its own federal plan for the production of hemp in the absence of an applicable approved State or Tribal program.

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Cannabis and Hemp Update

Cannabis legalization receives widespread popular support. According to opinion polls, more than two-thirds of Americans support full legalization—a steep rise in support considering that as recently as 2005, almost two-thirds of Americans opposed legalization. The country appears on the path to full cannabis legalization, but until that time, citizens and companies should be aware of the legal risks involved in entering the cannabis space.

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Originally published in The New Brewer, July/August 2019.




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Learnings from the FDA Hearing on Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Compounds

On Friday May 31, 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public hearing on the topic of cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds. The FDA held the hearing to gather information regarding the safety risks and health benefits associated with cannabis products. More than 110 speakers, including academic researchers, trade associations and cannabis product manufacturers, presented to the FDA panel during the all-day hearing. Below we outline the notable points from the hearing, including statements by FDA officials and interesting speaker comments. (more…)




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USDA Issues Opinion on Several Hemp-Related Provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill

On May 28, 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a legal opinion to address questions raised by several hemp-related provisions of the Agricultural Act of 2018, better known as the 2018 Farm Bill. The USDA opinion clarifies four areas of the 2018 Farm Bill:

  1. the removal of hemp as a controlled substance and schedule I drug became effective upon enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill;
  2. following the publication of implementing regulations, states and Indian tribes cannot prohibit interstate transportation and shipment of hemp and hemp-based products, and the USDA confirmed that this preemption also covers hemp produced under the 2014 Farm Bill;
  3. pending certain exceptions, individuals with certain controlled substance felony convictions will be barred from producing hemp; and
  4. following the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill, states and Indian tribes still retain the ability to regulate hemp production, including the ability to grow or cultivate hemp in that state or territory.

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Interstate Hemp Transportation: A Cautionary Tale

Unlike hemp, marijuana still is subject to state statutes and the federal Controlled Substances Act. The legal distinction between hemp and marijuana is too subtle for the human eye, or a trained K-9’s impressive nose, and it has created a quandary for interstate hemp shippers. Until federal law clarifies interstate commerce laws pertaining to hemp, producers should reconsider transporting hemp through less-receptive states.

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