The Evolution of CBD
Just a few years ago, not many of us would’ve recognized the name ‘CDB.’ This is hard to believe now that CBD is so ubiquitous. Everyone from Grandma to Gen Z-ers is taking it, vaping it, eating it, or applying it. CBD, which stands for Cannabidiol, is a phytocannabinoid, one of over 100 cannabinoids identified in the Cannabis sativa plant. It is non-psychoactive, but has stress-relieving, inflammation-reducing effects, and may improve the symptoms of a myriad of diseases. In this age of chronic inflammation and lacking access to good and/or affordable healthcare, CBD is big medicine.
Much ado has been made at a federal and legal level about distinguishing Cannabis from Hemp; however, they are the same plant. The only factor differentiating a classification of ‘Cannabis’ from one of ‘Hemp’ is the percentage of the other popular phytocannabinoid — THC, or delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is the intoxicating cannabinoid that makes the consumer feel ‘high’. Essentially, in the eyes of the law, if Cannabis plants have a concentration of less than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis, they’re considered Hemp. Anything above that is classified as Cannabis, a federally scheduled drug. (3)
A Step in the Right Direction
In 2018, the ‘Farm Bill’ passed and after a few years-long pilot programs, legalized growing Hemp, or Cannabis under 0.3% nationwide. In January 2021, the USDA issued a final ruling that increased flexibility for testing Hemp plants for THC levels and eased the ‘negligence threshold’ and penalties for farms with plants above 0.3%. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 made growing industrial Hemp expensive and a legal grey area. This piece of legislation was racist and greed-driven and went hand in hand with the ‘Reefer Madness’ hysteria propaganda of the same time. Unfortunately, the damaging reputation of Cannabis as a harmful drug followed the plant well past the millennium. (2,4,6)
A Brief History of Hemp Agriculture in the U.S.
Hemp and Cannabis had a long agricultural life in North America pre-Tax Act. The British began cultivating Hemp in the Canadian colonies in 1606, and then in Virginia in 1611. It was actually required by law in certain colonies that families plant at least a teaspoon of hemp seed. in the colonies to be mandatory, in spite of colonists not particularly intent on growing hemp. Hemp was so valuable, it could be used as a method of paying taxes, and some supplies, such as thread, were only available for purchase with hemp. Until 1776, colonies motivated farmers to grow Hemp by imposing a fine on those who did not comply. Hemp was used for cordage, fiber, paper, clothing, fuel, etc. (2)
Notable figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson advocated the cultivation of hemp and grew it themselves. The Declaration of Independence was written on Hemp paper, and Ben Franklin owned a mill that made Hemp paper. In 1792, Kentucky levied a tax on imported Hemp, which prompted the state to start growing its own, and developed a large agricultural Hemp industry. It should be understood that during this time, the farm labor and Hemp growing was done almost exclusively by enslaved Black folks. (2)
In the early 1900s, inventor Henry Ford used Hemp to produce ethanol for fuel to run machinery and vehicles. Pharmaceutical companies like Bristol-Myers’ Squib and Eli Lilly used Cannabis extracts in their medicines. Smoking hashish was fashionable among the wealthy. But in the 1930s, a combination of Depression-era blame seeking; continued racism against Black folks, their Cannabis use, and the rise of the jazz music scene; racism against a new influx of Mexican refugees following the Mexican Revolution and their Cannabis use; and investment in the petroleum industry led to the Tax Act. The term ‘Marihuana’ was used intentionally to associate this ‘dangerous drug’ with the ‘foreign threat’ of Mexican refugees. (6)
The Changing Landscape of CBD Farming
The disappointing reality is that most of the current Cannabis and CBD farmers, and most U.S. farmers in general are overwhelmingly white. Since the Tax Act era, the number of Black farmers has decreased from nearly a million to about 45,500 — just 1.3% of the over 3.5 million farmers and under .5% of total farmland in the U.S., according to a 2017 U.S. census by the USDA. Unsurprisingly, there’s an income gap as well — under 2,500 Black farmers ran operations that made $50,000 a year or more, compared with just under 500,000 white farmers, according to a 2018 Bloomberg report. This is due in large part to the glaring structural racism Black farmers have faced from loaning agencies, society at large, and even organizations like the USDA.(7)
Hopefully, these numbers will change dramatically in the coming years. There is some brightness on the horizon — Hispanic and Latinx farmers now account for 3.3% of the country’s farmers, a significant increase over the past 20 years. There’s also been a steady rise in the number of young farmers, under age 35. This is in part due to the popularity of farming Cannabis and CBD, as they promise a cash crop. Since this is a relatively new legal agricultural opportunity, CBD and Cannabis farming is a great place to begin to rectify the racial and demographic imbalances in both the Cannabis and agriculture communities and society at large. (5,8)
Standing Out Among the Rest
Certain standout examples like Black woman-owned Green Heffa Farms in North Carolina are paving the way for a changing agricultural landscape in the new U.S. Hemp economy. CEO Clarenda Stanley, or “Farmer Cee,” was the 2019 “Featured Farmer” for National Hemp History Week and has been written up in publications like Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine. Green Heffa Farms produces boutique, full-spectrum Hemp-flower products, and grows Hemp as well as other medicinal plants. Green Heffa also works with farmers of color, empowering them by teaching them to grow high-quality Hemp.(7,8)
In her own words, “We are a social equity farm first… here to level the planting field, and make sure that all farmers will be able to enter this industry and benefit from the myriad aspects and components that make it so great.” About the CBD and Cannabis culture scene at large, “While I was previously aware of the inequities that existed in the cannabis culture, I wasn’t aware of the blatant racism that plagues this industry until I became a part of it. It is ironic that an industry that touts itself as being for the people fails to demonstrate that in practice.” (8)
Correcting the Inequities
Even after ‘winning’ several discrimination-based lawsuits against giant agricultural institutions like The Department of Agriculture and the USDA (as in 1997’s Pigford v Glickman), Black farmers continue to face racist barriers and roadblocks. Inequities written into the 2018 Farm Bill make it difficult for Black and minority farmers to grow Hemp. For example, anyone with a drug-related felony cannot obtain a growing license for 10 years. This penalizes individuals for their experience growing Cannabis pre-2018. Additionally, Black folks and People of Color are more likely to have drug-related felonies in general, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. (1)
While some states have “equity programs” with permits for POC farmers to grow Cannabis, there are no programs like that for CBD farmers. Though still plagued with debt, Farmer Eddie Slaughter received the $50,000 payout from the Pigford v Glickman case. That debt prevents him from growing Hemp. “Our damages were more than $50,000 each, it was hundreds of millions of dollars. We still need debt relief. We owe more on interest than we do on principle. They wait until you die, take your farm, throw your wife out. It’s economic terrorism. Equal justice under law still does not exist in America for Black and poor folks,” he explains. (7,8)
Cost, Permits, and More
In Georgia, where Eddie’s land is, an annual Hemp cultivation license costs $50 per acre, a processing permit is an additional $25,000 upfront and $10,000 every year after. “Cannabis and Hemp can give us a way out. The CBD market is flooded, but fiber could give us an equal playing field, which could help relieve pain and suffering. But politics is muddying the water. This puts us in a real hard dilemma. When you try to apply for the license, only the rich farmers are going to be able to afford it.” (8)
The way forward is clear but legally complex: the inequities in Cannabis and Hemp agriculture must be corrected. Corrections could look like a combination of permit programs for POC Hemp farmers, which would include Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian farmers; reparations and debt relief for POC farmers — perhaps from the tax revenue of legal recreational Cannabis; and free or low-cost education and empowerment programs for POC interested in becoming Hemp or Cannabis farmers. New agricultural opportunities and legislation are fertile ground for planting the seeds to the future we want to see. Incentives for sustainable, regenerative practices within these corrections could be an important integration into a new, Green New Deal.
- Cowan, Tadlock. “The Pigford Cases: USDA Settlement of Discrimination Suits by Black Farmers” http://nationalaglawcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/assets/crs/RS20430.pdf
- Ministry of Hemp. “History Of Hemp In The US” https://ministryofhemp.com/hemp/history/#:~:text=North%20America%20was%20first%20introduced,hemp%20as%20a%20staple%20crop.
- Mull, Amanda. “America Loves Its Unregulated Wellness Chemicals” https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/01/why-cbd-took-over-america/604327/
- National Sustainable Agriculture Commission. “The Farm Bill: Seed to Plate” https://sustainableagriculture.net/our-work/campaigns/fbcampaign/what-is-the-farm-bill/
- Nittle, Nadra. “For Young Farmers, Hemp Is a ‘Gateway Crop’” https://civileats.com/2019/10/21/for-young-farmers-hemp-is-a-gateway-crop/
- Ramos, Jeffrey. “The Racist History of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and Marijuana Prohibition” https://medium.com/minor-clash/the-racist-history-of-the-marihuana-tax-act-of-1937-and-marijuana-prohibition-c7a4404ee160
- Simpson, April. “Where Are the Black Hemp Farmers?” https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2019/04/01/where-are-the-black-hemp-farmers
Weinberg, Bill. “Hemp Farming While Black” https://www.projectcbd.org/industry/hemp-farming-while-black