December 21, 2018 / 3:06 AM / 6 months ago

U.S. Farm Bill opens door on hemp; FDA to consider new cannabis policy

(Reuters) - The Food and Drug Administration said on Thursday it will consider creating new policy regarding the marketing and sale of cannabis after President Donald Trump signed the Farm Bill, which legalized commercial production of hemp in the United States.

Hemp lies on the kitchen table at Sisters of the Valley near Merced, California, U.S., April 18, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

The FDA said in a statement that it hopes to make more efficient “pathways” for companies to introduce and market cannabis and cannabis-derived products, including cannabidiol (CBD) into interstate commerce.

“We recognize the potential opportunities that cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds could offer and acknowledge the significant interest in these possibilities,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in the statement, adding that the agency will hold a public meeting to gather input.

Hemp is a type of cannabis plant with no or extremely low concentrations of the psychoactive compound known as THC, the ingredient in marijuana associated with “high” feelings.

The Farm Bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing for its commercial production in the United States, as long as those plants contain no more than 0.3 percent of THC.

“I think it’s really a game changer,” Joshua Horn, a cannabis industry lawyer, told CNBC. “The significance is now you have some aspect of the cannabis world legalized on a federal basis.”

CBD is routinely extracted from marijuana, another type of cannabis plant, that has high contents of THC. Cannabis industry experts say it can also be obtained from hemp plants with virtually no THC.

The FDA in June approved CBD for human consumption for the first time when it issued approval permits for Epidiolex, a drug intended to treat epilepsy.

A number of small companies are already selling CBD in oils, beverages, topical creams and other products, and in some instances shipping them across state lines.  

The market for CBD derived from hemp could reach $22 billion by 2022, according to a report issued earlier this year by the cannabis industry analysis firm the Brightfield Group, which assumed passage of the farm bill in its forecast.

Coca-Cola Co in September became one of the largest U.S. companies to express interest in CBD, saying in a statement that it was “closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world.”

Companies currently involved in the CBD market were hopeful that the FDA would eventually place CBD in the category of food additives called generally recognized as safe, or GRAS, Jonathan Eppers, chief executive of the CBD drink company VYBES, said earlier this year.

Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler

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