Post-Farm Bill, Hemp Research Is Here to Stay
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Hemp. For decades, it’s the word that conjured up images of threadbare tote bags, homespun jeans, and silver-haired zealots. But those stereotypes are disappearing faster than free CBD oil. Hemp is hip again, but this time it’s down to major investment from the cosmetics, food, and health industries.
Hemp protein powder, hemp tea, hemp burgers, hemp milk, hemp dog food – the list goes on. At a glance, it might seem as if there isn’t a product left on the market that couldn’t be made “healthier” with hemp.
But the new “hempire” isn’t just good business for the all-natural entrepreneurs. It’s good news for cannabinoid research, too.
Naturally high in CBD, the plant has always been a desired subject for researchers and industry developers who were kept pining by federal prohibition. But all that changed last December, when President Trump signed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 into law, also known as the Farm Bill.
Since then, cannabis’ non-psychoactive cousin has been legal in all 50 states and R&D is finally getting off the ground.
“We’re in the process of developing a facility to properly process hemp products and, essentially, create international sellable materials,” says Brian Vifian, director of operations at BAS Research.
As one of the leading cannabis research and manufacturing companies in California, BAS Research is keen to increase its hemp investment post-Farm Bill and join the rapidly growing hemp market. Speaking to Analytical Cannabis, Vifian explained the company’s next big step.
“We’ve got big plans to use cannabis as a vehicle for change, not only for drug development, but also through how production is handled,” he says. “From the ground to the product, we’re figuring out the best way to use hemp and take a different approach to some of these entrenched western methodologies.”
Vifian Hints at the company’s future research: “Pharmaceutical research will really begin now that we’re able to work with every other cannabinoid compound besides THC.”
“And the marketplace for this non-THC material is huge, it's incredibly large – you're going to see an explosion in nutraceutical products.”
Could all this innovation be happening without the Farm Bill? Vifian stresses that BAS Research’s hemp plans were already in motion prior to last year’s legislation but explains its passing has only benefited production.
“One of the biggest benefits is funding,” he explains. “You're able to raise funding a lot easier with this passing through.”
“Once you remove the controlled substance and THC is not in the picture, it becomes a lot easier to move into research on the product-side of development.”
But BAS Research isn’t alone in its hemp hysteria. From cultivation corporations to medical multinationals, a whole host of cannabis companies are priming for the industrial hemp boom. So many, in fact, that some are already maneuvering their production to get the edge over the competition.
In a joint venture with another major hemp corporation Global Hemp Group Inc., the Marijuana Company of America will begin its hemp clone production for the 2019 season “as early as possible.” The strategic move will provide the company an additional 45 to 60 days compared to its previous year – much more time for the hemp plants to grow and generate more biomass.
So, should BAS be concerned about the competition?
“Of course, all of these fairly prominent companies are going to dive into this,” says Vifian.
“But we've been doing it for a few years now. So, we've taken all the punches and the bruises and we're still kicking and moving forward.”
But friendly rivalry withstanding, there are still many barriers when it comes to making a business in cannabis, even post-Farm Bill.
Despite assurances that any cannabinoid derived from legally cultivated hemp would be considered legal by extension for use and sale, some state authorities are still treating hemp as a criminal substance. Earlier this year, a truck driver was arrested by Idaho police for transporting hemp through the state. Irrespective of its federal legality, the plant stock was still in breach of Idaho’s own regulations.
The confusing affair is emblematic of a country catching up with its own rapidly changing drug laws. And interstate transport issues could just be the beginning of hemp R&D’s problems.
“The obstacles are going to come from how the government ultimately deals with all of these compounds,” says Vifian.
“It just takes one public case of somebody doing something without the full research behind it and there can be a significant backlash, creating more obstacles in the future.”
Thankfully, many of these governmental issues are only hypothetical. And while future cases may encumber the big plans of hemp R&D, companies like BAS Research seem confident that these challenges can be overcome.
“I think that these issues will progressively get knocked down,” says Vifian. “There's going to be a lot of figuring out on both sides, both on the product development side and the regulatory side.”
“But yes, there’s no shortage of excitement. Things change quite quickly.”
This article originally appeared in Analytical Cannabis' Trends in Cannabis Extraction ebook in March 2019.