U.S. Hemp Authority Attempts to Regulate the Murky World of Hemp

But is it succeeding?

U.S. Hemp Authority Attempts to Regulate the Murky World of Hemp
Credit: iStock/jessicahyde

While the 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp production, we likely won’t be seeing federal regulations come to light until 2020, according to a recent announcement from Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue. This means that it’s going to be tough to know which products are safe – and which even contain hemp at all.

After some recent reports showed that vape pens contained, not the hemp-derived CBD oil they promised, but rather synthetic “spice,” a substance that has already been linked to several deaths, it’s more important than ever to ensure that we’re buying hemp products that are both safe and legal – and that’s where the U.S. Hemp Authority comes in.

Certifying Safe, Legal Hemp

The newly-formed U.S. Hemp Authority arose from the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, a coalition of more than 50 hemp companies that lobbied for the legalization of hemp at the federal level. While the Roundtable is more politically-focused, the Authority, now separate (though originally funded by the Roundtable), is more geared towards regulation. Its new certification program aims to reduce uncertainty in the industry and ensure that the hemp-based products on the U.S. market are both safe and legal.

U.S. Hemp Authority Board President Marielle Weintraub, Ph.D., compares the new program to the early beginnings of the USDA Organic certification: a self-regulated program whose rules stem from issues that are important to industry players themselves.

“The idea is to create a regulatory environment established by the industry,” she explains. “So it’s not a random group of people putting together regulations that may or may not make sense for growers, for processors, for suppliers. It takes the input of those in the industry and puts it together for best practices.”

The Authority has based many of its certification’s regulations on similar rules in states where cannabis is legal, and the certification tends to embrace the rules of the strictest states.

“For the most part, that tends to be California,” says Weintraub. “California doesn’t specifically have hemp regulations, but they do have specific cannabis regulations.”

The certification also takes its inspiration from some federal codes for dietary supplements. The resulting certification encompasses verification of tests for CBD and THC potency as well as the presence of potentially dangerous funguses, heavy metals, and chemicals in the final product.

“We are trying to follow the federal code as close as we can,” says Weintraub, “because it was not developed for hemp.”

CV Sciences was one of the first companies to receive the seal of certification in early January for its flagship product, PlusCBD Oil.

“It proves that what you’re saying on the label is what’s in the product,” explains Josh Hendrix, Director Of Domestic Hemp Production at CV Sciences, Inc. “It gives consumers and retailers a peace of mind and kind of checks off a box in terms of their vetting process so that they can move forward and feel comfortable selling products both legally and quality control wise.”

Does the Certification Go Far Enough?

While Hendrix notes that the certification is a “brand-new effort” that will be “constantly changing and evolving,” some in the industry remain unimpressed with it in its current iteration, including hemp farmer and founder of Ganjasana Rachael Carlevale, BS, CYT. 

Carlevale calls the new certification a “pay-to-play” (much like USDA Organic, in that regard), pointing to the minimum $1,000 fee for producers to be audited and certified. But more than financial stakes that could price some smaller players out of the running entirely, Carlevale is worried that the certification program doesn’t go far enough in ensuring the safety of the final product, despite the stated mission of the program.

Carlevale signals, for example, the possible presence of fungicides like Eagle 20, which, when smoked, turns into formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Similarly, she points to the permitted use of butane or propylene glycol, substances used for the extraction of CBD that, when combusted, become carcinogenic.

“I definitely do support needing some kind of regulation within the cannabis industry as a whole,” says Carlevale, but she worries that this is not the regulation the industry needs.

“In terms of protection, I think it should really start in agricultural practices, which would be closing all the loops on the farm and moving even beyond sustainable agriculture into regenerative agriculture.”

Dragonfly Earth Medicine, a free certification program that rewards regenerative agriculture practices and eschews butane extraction, is her preference, for its rigor and its transparency.

Of course, the U.S. Hemp Authority’s certification is still growing, and the Authority itself notes that, “Just like in ‘mainstream’ dietary supplements, some brands may go a step further than just FDA regulations and want to show compliance with other manufacturing and growing standards.”

While we’re happy to see this certification program entering the industry and especially happy that the presence of this seal will signal the absence of some of the more grievous errors being committed by some companies on the market today, the fact remains that no certification is a suitable replacement for doing your homework before you buy any product, be it food, skincare, or supplement – no matter how clean or green it might seem.

“You could have an awful product grown with pesticides and have some bottom of the barrel trim and process that with propylene, but you could have the most beautiful box that you put it in and wonderful story about your farm and have a top-dollar price for it, and that’s what’s gonna sell, because that’s what people know,” says Carlevale.

If you want to discover which CBD oil products Organic Authority has already vetted and given our seal of approval, check out our guide to the very best CBD oils on the market today.

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco