On August 26, 2019, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) issued a press release announcing “it is moving forward to facilitate and expand scientific and medical research for marijuana in the United States.” This announcement comes in the midst of a growing demand for marijuana for medical and scientific research. Several years ago, in an August 11, 2016, press release, DEA first announced its intention to “expand… the number of DEA-registered marijuana manufacturers” because “only one entity was authorized to produce marijuana to supply researchers in the United States: the University of Mississippi.” Since that announcement, 33 entities have applied to DEA for a marijuana manufacturer registration. However, the approval process was stalled during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ term in office, and to date no new applications have been approved. Meanwhile, the number of entities registered by DEA to conduct research on marijuana, marijuana extracts or marijuana derivatives has jumped from 384 in January 2017 to 542 in January 2019. Thus, while demand for marijuana for research purposes has increased sharply, the number of suppliers has remained stagnant.
At the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) public hearing on May 31, 2019 (read more about the hearing), over 100 people presented to a panel of FDA stakeholders and to over 500 attendees. Last week, FDA stated in a post that it recognizes the “significant public interest in these products, for therapeutic purposes and otherwise” but reiterated that “there are many unanswered questions about the science, safety, and quality of many of these products.”
The good news for the industry is that FDA “recognize[s] the need to be clear and open about where things stand, and about the efficient and science-based way in which we are moving forward,” including “being transparent and up-front” as they continue to collect data and information on CBD. FDA is taking an “Agency-wide, integrated, and collaborative approach” to regulating products made from CBD and is exploring potential pathways to market for CBD products. However, FDA still grapples with how to balance the desire for widespread availability of CBD products with the desire to preserve incentives for research and drug development of CBD products.
On Friday, May 31, 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public hearing to discuss scientific data and information about products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds. Acting Commissioner Sharpless made no new announcements about FDA’s current thinking about how it will regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds. However, it was clear from the FDA panel’s questions to the various academic, industry, and other stakeholders that FDA is looking for as much data from as many sources as possible. In particular, FDA’s questions focused on age and youth restrictions, dose and route of administration and how they affect the safety of the products, adverse event reporting, and interactions between cannabis/cannabis-derived products and other drugs. In addition, FDA continued to inquire about whether deregulating cannabis and cannabis-derived products would affect the incentive for research on these products.
Industry stakeholders asked for a prompt, expedited, clear, and transparent regulatory framework for products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived products. Specifically, industry sought clear definitions for terms like “full spectrum,” “broad spectrum,” “isolate,” and “THC-free.” Further, industry requested regulations on labeling, testing, good manufacturing practices, and track and trace for products. Many industry stakeholders asked FDA to look to the dietary supplement and food regulations already in place as a guideline for regulations on cannabis.
Duane Morris partner Rick Ball was a guest speaker on The Cannabis Reporter Radio Show, hosted by Snowden Bishop, on May 20, 2019. The episode is titled “How to Free CBD from the FDA’s Grasp: Tell Congress to Call It GRAS,” and can be found on The Cannabis Reporter website.
About the Episode
When Congress legalized agricultural hemp with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, it seemed like the hemp industry would finally be out of the woods from a regulatory standpoint. So, it defies logic that the FDA is creating obstacles for hemp CBD producers and that every-day people are still being arrested for possession of hemp biomass and extracts.
Just last week, a 67-year-old great grandmother was arrested at the happiest place on earth when a Disney World employee discovered a bottle of CBD in her purse after a routine inspection at the park entrance. You may recall the truck driver who was arrested in Idaho with a load of freshly harvested hemp on its way from Oregon to a processing plant in Colorado just weeks after the hemp measure was signed into law.
Incidents like that leave most of us scratching our heads, considering that hemp is now legal at the federal level and hemp-derived CBD is a harmless molecule that is naturally produced in our own bodies when we’re young.
Let’s face it, legal hemp seems to be an oxymoron. Minutes after the hemp measure was signed into law, the FDA blindsided the elated industry with its stern warning that only one CBD product has ever been approved for sale in the U.S. and that all other hemp CBD products would remain illegal to sell until they can be approved by the FDA. The only exceptions would apply to the manufacturing and sale of CBD limited to states that had included CBD provisions in their state marijuana policy measures.
To read more about this episode and listen to the interview with Duane Morris attorney Rick Ball, please visit The Cannabis Reporter Radio Show page here.
The public’s desire for organic products continues to grow. This is equally true for cannabis and hemp-derived products, especially where they are being used for medicinal purposes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued regulations setting out standards setting out specific requirements that must be met for an agricultural product to be labeled “organic”. In order to be able to include the USDA’s organic certified seal on a product’s packaging, a USDA-accredited certifying agency must verify that the product meets USDA’s regulations. This USDA certification provides many benefits, including, for example, premium prices for products. So why haven’t we seen many certifications for hemp products?
Back in 2016, the USDA, in conjunction with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, issued a Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp concerning the applicability of Federal law to industrial hemp programs after the 2014 Farm Bill, but the ability to gain organic certification for hemp products was unclear. The USDA also issued Instruction: Organic Certification of Industrial Hemp Production (updated in September 2018), which stated that industrial hemp produced in accordance with the 2014 Farm Bill could be certified if it met all of the requirements of USDA’s organic regulations. The problem was that under the 2014 Farm Bill only certain parts of the hemp plant (e.g., the stalk and non-viable seeds) were permitted to seek organic certification. And, actually, some hemp seed products have received USDA organic certification.
With the enactment of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (also known as the 2018 Farm Bill), hemp-derived CBD appeared to be on the table for marketing all across the country. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) press release issued that same day put a hold on the jubilation, stating that FDA considered any and all cannabis-containing or cannabis-derived products as drug products and not food or dietary supplements, regardless of whether the CBD was hemp-derived.
On April 2, 2019, departing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement about FDA’s next steps to advance a regulatory pathway for cannabis-containing and cannabis-derived products. At the same time FDA updated its cannabis-containing products and cannabis-derived products Q&A. It is clear that, at this point, FDA has not changed its position.