It’s a new year, and with a new year comes new challenges, changes, and opportunities–opportunities to adapt and find ways to navigate and advance the hemp industry.
One organization ready to take on the new year is the U.S. Hemp Roundtable (USHRT), a national organization advocating for clearer regulations surrounding CBD and other hemp-derived products.
In this interview with Hemp Grower, Jonathan Miller, USHR general counsel, describes the organization’s areas of focus this year and how it is advocating for regulatory certainty surrounding topics like CBD and the controversial delta-8 THC.
Andriana Ruscitto (AR): For those who don’t know, can you talk a bit about what the U.S. Hemp Roundtable does?
Jonathan Miller (JM): The Roundtable was founded at the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Council in 2013, and rebranded—and expanded—as the U.S. Hemp Roundtable in 2016. Our initial efforts were geared toward ensuring that the hemp crop could be legally grown and hemp products could be legally sold. That all accumulated in the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which permanently legalized hemp and also legalized its extracts, cannabinoids, and derivatives, which includes CBD—one of the most popular hemp products right now.
Since then, we have been working across the country to promote legalized and regulated products in all 50 states. We now have all 50 [states] with legal hemp after Idaho finally came aboard last year. Now, our focus is on the product side and making sure that popular products like CBD can be sold, but also that they [are] fairly regulated to ensure the products are safe for consumers.
At the federal level, we are still trying to push forward legislation that would require the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] FDA to regulate CBD as a dietary supplement as well as a food/beverage additive. We’ve got several pieces of legislation that would accomplish that. And we’re also really focused a lot on the fiber side in terms of trying to promote sustainability through hemp growth, cultivation, and products.
AR: What bills are on the USHR’s radar this upcoming year?
JM: On the national level, on the CBD side of things, [we’re looking at] three bills: two in the House and one in the Senate. House bill H.R.841 would ensure a regulatory pathway for the sale of CBD as a dietary supplement. H.R. 6134 would ensure the legalization of hemp as a food and beverage additive. And then, on the Senate side, S. 1698 would provide for the legal and regulatory pathways for the sale of CBD both as a dietary supplement and a food beverage additive.
We are very hopeful that this year will be the year that some version of that legislation will pass Congress. The bill that’s been around the longest, which is H.R. 841, already has  co-sponsors–25 Democrats and  Republicans–so it demonstrates their strong bipartisan support for that legislation.
AR: What are your predictions for those bills? Do you think they’ll be passed?
JM: We feel very good about it. We are not encountering any organized opposition. Rather, our challenge [is] there’s been so much on Congress’ plate given COVID, given infrastructure and [a budget reconciliation bill], that they have not been able to focus on our issues, but we are really hopeful that this will happen in 2022.
AR: Does USHR plan on helping introduce any new bills at the state level?
JM: Now, there are a whole lot of bills that are going on across the country. Last year our biggest win was in California, A.B. 45, which provided for the total legalization of hemp-derived CBD and other hemp extracts, in adjustable form and topical form as well. There are similar bills that are close to the finish line in Massachusetts, in Michigan, and in North Carolina, and so that will be something to follow.
A real big issue at the state level now is the delta-8 controversy and how we’re going to deal with delta-8. We as the Roundtable support legislation that would provide for a pathway for the sale of delta-8, but it would be within the adult-use cannabis market. So, it would not be sold in retail stores or to kids, but rather sold like marijuana is sold in [an] adult-use dispensary.
AR: Back to A.B. 45 for a minute: What are the Roundtable’s plans for implementing or helping implement a tax structure for smokable hemp in California after the passage of that bill? Do you see that happening this year?
JM: Yeah, we do. There was very strong political support for the idea of providing farmers the ability to sell flower, whether it’s for smoking or for other types of uses. We ran out of time last year in terms of developing the right tax structure for that. But [California] Governor Newsom just indicated that he believed that it is time to really address the tax structure for all cannabis this year. So, we feel that the hemp tax structure will be addressed when the greater cannabis taxes are as well.
AR: Does USHR plan on taking any other focus beyond CBD and delta-8 this year?
JM: So, we’re also really focused on the fiber side of things and the farmer. There’s going to be legislation introduced any day now called The Hemp Advancement Act, [which] will be introduced by [Maine] Rep. Chellie Pingree in the U.S. House this year. [The act] will help address some of the challenges remaining in the 2018 Farm Bill. Two of the big [challenges] are [one], the THC level. We’re advocating for a 1% THC level in the field and in processing, and [then] a 0.3% total THC level for products. So, that’ll be one big issue.
The other big issue is the ban [of] people [with drug-related felonies] from being able to participate in hemp programs. We don’t believe folks that have paid their time should be prohibited from growing a legal crop, and so we would like to see a repeal of the drug felon ban.
JM: We have a focus on minority empowerment as well. We have a very comprehensive program, the [Minority Empowerment Committee], where we are promoting justice and equity both in our organization and our member firms. We’ll be engaged in providing the general public with training for those kinds of activities, so that’s something that we’re excited about.
We are also going to be looking at legislation to establish hemp centers of excellence at minority-serving institutions, including HBCUs—historically black colleges and universities. So, that’s a priority.
And finally, on the sustainability side, we’ll be really working to help develop a new standard, practices, and certification program for hemp fiber. [We are doing this to] not only provide consistency, but to ensure that there is real, meaningful sustainability; that hemp is grown in a way that does reelevate the soil and uses less water than other crops; and [that] hemp products are biodegradable and sustainable.
AR: What are your predictions for the hemp industry this year? What challenges or opportunities do you think will arise for those in the industry?
JM: Our focus as an organization is providing legal and regulatory clarity and certainty. So much of the challenges for the hemp industry is that we don’t have that, particularly when it comes to products like CBD. The uncertainty and legal questions have created a real cloud over the industry. They’ve led to a dramatic decrease in prices, a number of bankruptcies, and a lot of farmers who have been really struggling. So, our focus as an organization is going to be to provide that certainty so that we can have an industry that thrives again, as it did, shortly after the  Farm Bill was passed.
AR: How does the USHR plan to continue to be a resource for the industry?
JM: So, we have a website, hempsupporter.com, that provides regular updates on all of the policies being made across the country. We encourage people not only to come to that website but also to sign up for our free mailing list because once you’re on that, you will get regular updates in your mailbox that keep you apprised of all the development.
But what’s more important is that we empower you to have a voice in policymaking at the federal, state, and local levels. So, we have a number of campaigns on our website where you just type in your zip code. Even if you don’t know who your member of Congress or your state representative is, our portal knows and will allow you to send targeted messages to them to ask them for their support of the industry. So, we hope that folks will sign up [at] hempsupporter.com. Again, it’s free, but by doing that, you not only get a lot of knowledge, but you help grow our army so that we can truly affect policy in a meaningful way at every level of government.
Editor’s note: This interview was lightly edited for clarity.