By Eric Axelson
As Congress addresses the nation’s major urgent public health issues, New Jersey is fortunate to have someone seated at the head of the table: U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone.
Indeed, Chairman Pallone is in a unique position to address a critical health and safety issue plaguing the Garden State — the proliferation of unregulated products that are being sold under the guise of the “hemp” or “CBD” name that raise significant quality, safety, intoxication, and other consumer protection concerns. Given the threats posed to public health, particularly to children, the time for Chairman Pallone to act is now.
It’s been more than three years since the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill, which explicitly legalized hemp and clarified the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s jurisdiction over ingestible and topical hemp products. Within hours of the bill signing, then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recognized the “clear interest of Congress in fostering the development of appropriate hemp products” and acknowledged that the FDA “has the authority to issue a regulation,” which would allow for marketing. But since then, the agency has taken no concrete action.
In recent weeks, Interim FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock reversed course, arguing that the law is “fairly clear,” barring the agency from further action on CBD and putting the agency in a “stalemate position.”
As a result, a real public health problem remains unaddressed: As the FDA’s own studies demonstrate and its own warnings counsel, many products continue to be sold in gas stations and vape shops all over New Jersey – most prominently, delta-8 THC — that raise significant safety and intoxication concerns since the agency is not ensuring these products are in compliance with federal regulation.
Meanwhile, farmers, businesses and consumers suffer. The FDA’s extra-statutory and unenforced position that the sale of ingestible CBD is illegal continues to put a cloud over the industry, restricting demand, crushing prices, and leaving hemp growers with mountains of unsellable biomass.
Less than 200 acres of hemp were grown in New Jersey last year because of regulatory uncertainty, denying farmers in the Garden State considerable economic opportunities. Companies endeavoring to sell compliant hemp products contend with a patchwork of inconsistent and burdensome state regulations and struggle with access to capital from banks and private entities concerned about the FDA’s positioning.
Many in Congress have had enough. HR 841, which would require the FDA to regulate hemp extracts like CBD as dietary supplements, already features 40 co-sponsors, with 26 Democrats and 14 Republicans. HR 6134, recently introduced by a bipartisan coalition, would extend regulatory protection for CBD in food and beverages.
Unfortunately, these bills are languishing without action in the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Fortunately, this is one area in which Chairman Pallone can act swiftly and unilaterally. He can immediately hold a hearing in his committee, bring in the FDA to explain its inaction and ask farmers, consumers, and small businesspeople to testify to the urgent need for regulation.
As farmers, processors, small businesses and consumers in his district and throughout New Jersey, we urge Chairman Pallone to act now, hold a hearing on hemp and CBD and accelerate the process of securing regulation of these popular products.
Eric Axelson is found and CEO of Garden State Harvest.
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