The industrial hemp harvest is underway across New York state, and much of it can be turned into the oils that fuel the growing legal trade in CBD-infused products like tinctures, lotions and salves.
But the state regulations and licenses that allow the hemp/CBD businesses to operate legally expire at the end of October. New guidelines and license procedures are “sitting on Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo’s desk” one hemp industry leader says, but there’s no sign they’ll be issued soon.
With 700 hemp growers across the state, producing hundreds of thousands of pounds destined for more than 100 in-state processing facilities this fall, the time is growing short.
“It’s going to be a disaster if they have to sit on this much hemp,” said Allan Gandelman, a Cortland hemp grower and processor who is also president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association. “We need these regulations now.”
Gandelman, owner of hemp company Head + Heal in Cortland, joined Eddie Brennan, president of Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards, on Tuesday to call for the regulations that were promised in the state Hemp Extracts bill that Cuomo signed into law late last year. (Beak & Skiff earlier this year jumped into the hemp extract processing business).
It’s important, they said, for the many growers and processors, and for the hundreds of related business that take the finished extracts to produce the tinctures, salves and other consumer products.
Similar media events calling for the release of the rules were held today across the state, in Binghamton, Buffalo, New York City and elsewhere. The events were held as part of National Hemp Action Day.
The frustration for the hemp growers and processors stems from the fact that they succeeded in getting a bill that broadly outlines the rules for the industry passed through the state Legislature and approved by the governor.
But the specific rules need to be issued now so there’s time for the 60-day comment period and application process, Gandelman said. The law provides for the new licenses and permits to be issued starting Jan. 1.
“For all (that) to happen from now until January 1 seem unlikely,” Gandelman said.
The law sets out procedures for the licensing of industrial hemp growers and extract manufacturers and establishes what are likely the nation’s strictest testing and labeling requirements. The bill was approved by state lawmakers last year in the wake of their failure to approve a bill legalizing adult recreational use of marijuana.
Hemp is a species of cannabis, like marijuana, but does not produce as much THC, the compound that creates the marijuana ‘high.” CBD (cannabidiol) extracted from hemp is a non-psychoactive compound that is touted by its advocates for health benefits.
The state’s growers and processors have been operating for the past few years under a temporary state-sanctioned research program. It expires Oct. 31 — and the permits and licensing expire with it.
Without the new regulations in place, the hemp industry would be in “a gray area,” Brennan said. That’s especially troublesome, because of the nature of the business. There is “an unfortunate stigma” with hemp, THC and CBD, Gandelman said.
The unprocessed hemp contains just a trace of THC, and the finished extract that is used for products like lotions and salves contains less than the 0.3% THC that makes it legal under federal law, Brennan said. But during the processing and extraction, the percentage can rise temporarily to more than 3%.
“That means, temporarily, we’re dealing with a narcotic,” he said.
That’s just one of the reasons processors like Beak & Skiff and Head + Heal want clear regulations.
Another is that without strong New York state regulations, the CBD market is flooded with out-of-state products that may be processed to lower standards with fewer regulations, Brennan and Gandelman said. They may contain more THC than allowed, for example, or perhaps be laden with heavy metals, they said.
“There are rogue producers and possible unsafe products out there,” Brennan said. The goal of the Hemp Extracts bill in New York was to establish strict guidelines that could make the state’s hemp industry among the best in the country, he said.
“Not a lot of industries out there say they want more regulation,” Brennan said. “But we’re begging, ‘Please regulate us.’ “
If and when Cuomo’s administration does set out new rules and guidelines, there is still one area that will not be covered: The Hemp Extracts law as signed does not specifically allow CBD to be added to food and beverages.
Though it is possible to find CBD in food and beverages on the market, the state’s Agriculture & Markets department has declared them illegal, based on current guidelines from the federal Food & Drug Administration.
In signing the Hemp Extracts law last year, Cuomo said he would defer action on food and beverage with CBD until a “summit” on the hemp/CBD industry he hoped to convene in the spring. The coronavirus pandemic seems to have derailed that.
Beak & Skiff had a first-hand experience with the food and beverage issue: It had planned to release a CBD-infused Cold Brew Coffee product last year, but had to pull it after the Ag & Markets ruling last summer.
“We’re in this position where you can find something on a shelf that we are technically not allowed to make,” Brennan said.
In response to a query to the governor’s office about the new regulations, a state Department of Health public information officer released this statement: “The New York State Department of Health is finalizing a comprehensive set of regulations to launch the hemp industry in NYS … These regulations will outline the necessary requirements for licensure, processing and retail sale of cannabinoid hemp for human consumption (i.e. CBD products), which includes but is not limited to labeling, testing and advertising standards.”