California’s State of Hemp

By Hoban Law Group attorney, Patrick Goggin

It’s midsummer with California’s State Assembly in recess, a great time to assess the state of hemp in the Golden State. Consistent with history, we find both progress and growing pains in the process.

At the end of April, after much anticipation, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) made registration applications available to the state’s farmers for hemp cultivation and seed breeding. The welcome and historic move came only after numerous counties had enacted moratoriums prohibiting hemp cultivation, primarily because of a lack of CDFA regulations. The CDFA’s registration allowance, however, was not enough for some counties that proceeded with temporary hemp bans because the CDFA had yet to issue sampling and testing regulations.

Realizing the urgent need for guidance, the CDFA submitted to the Office of Administrative Law some emergency rules which went into impressively swift effect on June 11. Through such action, the regulations necessary for farmers to complete the season’s hemp harvest are fully in place. Simultaneously, moratoriums are gradually expiring, opening more regions to hemp farming. That noted, work continues in earnest on the legislative front to further develop California’s hemp cultivation and regulatory systems for its processing.

Most significantly, the lack of laws regulating hemp processing (principally in regards for extracts rich in CBD and other cannabinoids) has resulted in a substantial marketplace disruption. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH)’s FAQ outlining the agency’s position that CBD is a prohibited food additive and dietary supplement reached its first anniversary last month. While a legislative solution — AB 228 — is streaming through the legislature uncontested so far, the CDPH and its county departments are picking up enforcement efforts, thus further limiting commerce.

After the legislature returns from its break this month, AB 228 and SB 153 (hemp cultivation statute amendments pursuant to 2018 Farm Bill) face their final legislative hurdles through the Appropriations Committee with floor votes waiting in the wings. While SB 153 is not expected to face much headwind, AB 228 will require a stronger advocacy engine to navigate past some blowback from the agency and cannabis industry. Come September, Governor Gavin Newsom will have his first opportunity to act on hemp legislation and thereby place his stamp on one of the more important agricultural issues of recent times.

Based in San Francisco, Patrick Goggin is a senior attorney at Hoban Law Group. He sits on Vote Hemp’s board and is working to implement hemp research in California. He can be reached at 650-238-9119.