NIHC caught up with board member Doug Farquhar, J.D.,to discuss his involvement in the council and the industry. He is an attorney with close to 30 years’ experience working with policy makers on environmental and health issues, primarily working with state legislatures.
In his prior work, for 21 years Mr. Farquhar directed the Environmental Health Program at the National Conference of State Legislatures, where he worked on the issue of cannabis edibles. The EHP performs legislative analysis and outreach on state and federal environmental, health and trade laws; focusing on the delegation and authorization of federal and state laws; and provides legal and technical assistance to state legislators and agency staff on state, federal and international environmental, environmental health, and trade policies. He also has provided expert testimony before state legislative committees and task forces; reviews and comments on legislation and regulations, drafts memos, articles and books on state environmental health policies; and represents state interests before federal and international bodies.
As director of Environmental Health he worked closely with federal counterparts at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).
Now, he is currently Director of Government Affairs for the National Environmental Health Association.
What about the industrial hemp industry has compelled your involvement with NIHC?
This industry really appeals to me as an exciting emerging area; it is a rare thing to be on ground level of an industry such as hemp and cannabis provides.
It was very much untouched from a state level until the passage of 2018 Farm Bill allowing hemp to be sold and declassified as a schedule 1 drug. This opened a whole avenue for industrial hemp. It is a rare opportunity.
I have worked on the state level in health policies for a good portion of my career. It is at the state levels that the industry will have a chance to thrive. And, I think there is real opportunity for NIHC to 1) help states know how to track what they are doing and 2) prepare states on how to address the issues.
“NIHC has a clear role in creating opportunity in the marketplace though educating lawmakers and regulators on intended and unintended consequences of certain legislation. They can navigate the way through many of the agencies that have a card in the hemp deck to play.”
How can your experience help NIHC drive the hemp industry forward?
The federal government will do some of the work, but it primarily lies with the state and local governments to do most of the heavy lifting, which is where my expertise lies. State legislators want hemp to grow as an industry and want to promote it as a sustaining crop for their state. Yet, there are still so many unknowns with it that need to be worked through.
The state-to-state issue is also working itself out. It would normally take a federal law to bring about swift and sustainable state to state harmonization, but Congress typically hates to do that. They usually allow each state to work out issues within their boundaries when there is no overarching need for federal intervention. Hemp does not have a public health issue attached to it, for instance, that would necessitate such federal action.
But to give you an example of how the federal government couldcome into play in states’ harmonization, we can look at the labeling on biotechnology. It wasn’t until Vermont became the first state to make it mandatory by law that Congress that it passed their own law in a matter of weeks. There was direct incentive to harmonize biotechnology, where hemp doesn’t provide that immediate need right now. I really don’t see the federal government regulating hemp, at least for now.
States need to address industrial hemp from a marketing point of view. NIHC and the checkoff program can help.
If hemp is restricted on how it is grown and sold, people will not want to do it. Most importantly, those who would normally invest in industry-wide growth of new products will invest in tight regulatory environments. It is too risky. Plus, there is lack of available data to inspire what investors, farmers and producers they cando. These were some of the problems we saw with the edible cannabis issue that we had to overcome.
Early on, the state of north Dakota conducted a huge effort to get the ag community to grow hemp. They saw it as a viable market and encouraged the farmers to grow hemp. They did all kinds of stuff to encourage it, but the then-federal restrictions held it back. The barrier is now removed with the 2018 Farm Bill, but there is still work to do. The states have to get busy forming their programs.
What is the role of NIHC from your perspective?
NIHC has a clear role in creating opportunity in the marketplace though educating lawmakers and regulators on intended and unintended consequences of certain legislation. They can navigate the way through many of the agencies that have a card in the hemp deck to play.
From an environmental perspective, the growing of hemp is an extremely good product for agriculture. Whatever we can do to encourage this marketplace will be beneficial for farmers and for consumers. It is a very viable ag product, which is why the states are so interested in it. It will grow with the marketing and promotion of it, which NIHC can also play a critical role though the promotion of the checkoff program.
NIHC can be a guiding force as the industry evolves and matures. We don’t know what we don’t know yet, such as what pesticides are best and which fertilizers are suited for hemp. From an ag standpoint, there is much to learn, and data is coming sparingly. But there is no doubt we will learn what will make hemp industry prosper; people will figure it out.
What do you think is the most important aspect concerning the industrial hemp industry today?
Its growth and marketing. Getting it out there and people using it for products. Showing that it isa viable product. Breaking the stigma for investors to contribute. Anything to get it out there and get it known. The wonderful thing is that it does not have issues attached to it that could make it problematic from a public health and environmental standpoint, both which can be huge obstacles in other circumstances like we saw with genetically-modified foods.
There needs to be a proof of product that using hemp is better than what is currently being used.