The Maine hemp industry caught a break Wednesday when Gov. Janet Mills signed a law allowing a popular hemp byproduct, cannabidiol, to be added to food products, treating the wildly popular cannabis extract as a food rather than a medicine.
“Happy planting, hemp farmers,” said Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, the bill’s author.
Hickman introduced the emergency bill after state consumer and community health inspectors began warning retailers to pull foods, beverages and tinctures containing cannabidiol, or CBD, off the shelves in January, citing both state and federal laws as the reason.
The state eventually apologized for that order, saying that inspectors were supposed to inform and educate retailers, not order any action, but it left the Maine hemp industry uncertain of the legality of its most important end market, CBD-infused foods.
“We heard from farmers, processors, retailers, health care practitioners and people who have found relief in the medicinal qualities of the nutrient dense whole food that is the hemp plant,” said Hickman, himself an organic farmer. “They needed us to act.”
The bill aligns the definition of hemp in state law with the definition used in the new U.S. Farm Bill. Both are a kind of cannabis, but hemp contains very little of the psychoactive agent found in marijuana. Hemp is now federally legal, while marijuana is not.
Mills signed the bill into law Wednesday morning after the House approved it last week 116-1, and the Senate passed it 32-1 on Tuesday. As an emergency measure, the change in Maine’s definition of hemp is immediate.
This gives Maine hemp farmers more confidence in an end market before deciding whether to apply for a state cultivation license by April 1. Hemp can be used for a range of products, from fiber to a concrete substitute, but CBD products are the most popular and profitable.