Restrictive Massachusetts guidelines on selling CBD products worry hemp farmers –

BOSTON — Jonathan MacDougall of Baygrown Farms in Rochester refurbishes cranberry bogs to grow hemp, an attempt to rejuvenate a struggling industry.

His company recently worked with a local produce farm to create a new line of CBD-infused strawberry jam. But after the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources last week released a policy statement banning the sale of CBD-infused food, MacDougall expects to lose the thousands of dollars he put into developing the jam.

“We just invested in a whole line of edibles we can’t even sell,” MacDougall said.

Massachusetts lawmakers are taking steps to make it easier for farmers to grow hemp, which was legalized in Massachusetts in 2016 and federally in 2018. But at the same time, the state agency charged with regulating agriculture put out new guidelines that could severely limit the size of the state’s hemp market by banning the sale of certain products.

Farmers, retailers and manufacturers said the new rules could make it impossible for small farmers to enter the hemp industry.

“Massachusetts farmers just aren’t going to be able to compete with these regulations,” said Julia Agron, an Amherst farmer and outreach coordinator for the Northeast Sustainable Hemp Association.

The new policy statement says growers and manufacturers can sell hemp seed and its derivatives, clothing, building materials and fibers. A grower can sell flower to another grower or processor.

But growers cannot sell flower meant to be used by the consumer — such as for smoking. Growers cannot sell CBD-infused food, animal feed with hemp products, hemp as a dietary supplement or any CBD product for which they make medicinal claims.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a part of the cannabis plant that is thought to produce relaxation, but cannot get someone high.

The prohibition on food stems from a Department of Public Health statement prohibiting adding CBD to food, based on federal rules by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The problem, farmers say, is that CBD is the most lucrative part of the hemp market.

Agron, who runs a small hemp farm, said the market for industrial hemp is already dominated by large farms in agricultural states. The only way for a small Massachusetts farm to be viable is to sell artisanal, craft products — such as high-quality flower for smoking. Although someone cannot get high smoking hemp, it is smoked, sometimes by people looking to stop smoking cigarettes.

While Agron’s farm can produce cosmetics or topical creams, she said the market significantly shrinks if farmers cannot sell their crop for edible products.

“If we can grow artisanal product and get top dollar, we can survive as a micro-farm,” Agron said. “If we have to sell to a processor and process it into hemp oil, we won’t make enough to cover our costs of getting licenses and plants.”

Business owners say the timing of the new statement is also problematic, since farmers already started growing this season. The Department of Agricultural Resources has issued 102 licenses to grow or process hemp in 2019.

Linda Noel of Terrapin Farm in Franklin is in her second year of growing hemp. She had a contract to sell flower to a company that wanted to infuse it in herbal tea. But MDAR denied that company a license, so she has been unable to sell her crop.

“This is a completely misguided policy,” Noel said.

Zach McInnis, vice president and co-founder of the Healing Rose in Newburyport, sells cosmetics and body care products. The company had hoped to expand into foods and tinctures, but the new MDAR rules “trampled on those dreams a bit,” McInnis said.

McInnis said he worries that out-of-state companies will import products that Massachusetts companies are not allowed to develop. If he were allowed to manufacture things like CBD capsules or tinctures, McInnis said, “We could easily triple our revenue right now.”

Kirby Mastrangelo, who owns Hempire, which sells hemp products in Methuen and Amesbury, said the guidelines are also confusing. For example, it is unclear whether CBD-derived tinctures or capsules are prohibited.

State officials say the state guidelines are partially dependent on federal rules.

Brendan Moss, a spokesman for Gov. Charlie Baker, said in a statement, “The Baker-Polito Administration recently issued policy guidance regarding the sale of hemp-derived products in the Commonwealth consistent with previously announced federal policy and looks forward to working with the FDA, state agencies and local boards of health to ensure all products in Massachusetts comply with applicable federal and state laws and regulations.”

Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, chairman of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, introduced a bill, which passed the House Wednesday, to allow farmers to grow hemp on agricultural land.

Pignatelli said he thinks part of the issue with CBD is the lack of scientific evidence on its effects. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions, there’s a lot of science we need to delve into,” Pignatelli said.

Pignatelli said he thinks MDAR is trying to “hit the pause button” to allow time for a “more thorough analysis” of the pros and cons of CBD oil.

Rep. David Rogers, D-Cambridge, chairman of the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy, said lawmakers will take a careful look at the new guidelines, and the Legislature could consider passing a new law regulating or allowing CBD products.

He said it is a complex issue because of the intersection of state and federal law. At the same time, Rogers said, “It’s one more product in commerce that could generate revenue and jobs for farmers.”

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