HomeCannabis Industry InterviewsCynthia Cabrera, Chief Strategy Officer at Hometown Hero Discusses Hemp Industry Regulation...

Cynthia Cabrera, Chief Strategy Officer at Hometown Hero Discusses Hemp Industry Regulation and Advocacy

In addition to her other responsibilities in her role at Hometown Hero CBD, Cabrera leads local and national advocacy efforts for the veteran-supporting cannabusiness of hemp-derived THC and cannabidiol-based products.

Prior to her appointment to the Austin-based manufacturer, Cabrera established the Cating Group, a consulting and business management firm focused on emerging industries, such as hemp and medical marijuana.

Previously, she served as executive director of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association. Cabrera also is a board member of the Hemp Industries Association and founding member of the Texas Hemp Business Council.

In the interview below, Cynthia provides a unique perspective on the “civil war” between marijuana and hemp industries. She provides updates in what Hometown Hero and the hemp industry are doing in Congress to keep hemp legal.

Ganjly: Could you describe the main points of contention between the hemp and marijuana industries regarding the redefinition of hemp in the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018?

Cynthia Cabrera: When Congress passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, better known as the Farm Bill, the definition of hemp referred to cannabis sativa L. plants with 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or less by dry weight.

The legalization of hemp-derived cannabinoids was the impetus behind what has become a $79 billion industry that has created hundreds of thousands of jobs and provides close to $2 billion in annual tax revenues. These products, which help improve overall wellness provide adult consumers and veterans an alternative to federally illegal marijuana and pharmaceutical opioids.

Every five years, Congress must reauthorize the Farm Bill, which has a current September 2024 deadline. Some businesses and lobbying groups in the marijuana industry, particularly those backing large national corporations, are seeking to redefine industrial hemp and the definition of hemp-derived cannabinoids, citing that these federally legal hemp-derived cannabinoids are unfairly impacting marijuana sales.

Ganjly: What specific changes are being proposed to the definition of hemp, and why are these changes significant to both industries?

Cynthia Cabrera: While there is some support for raising the THC limit to 1%, any legal definition changes could upend the industrial hemp industry and the tremendous growth and adoption of hemp-derived products.

Changes to the existing definition of hemp could also have irreversible effects on hemp-derived cannabinoids but would not affect marijuana which would remain federally illegal and authorized for sale on a state by state basis. And with the House Farm Bill markup approaching, the opportunity to change the definition of hemp seems to be a top priority among Big Marijuana.

Ganjly: How might stricter regulations affect the production and distribution of hemp-derived products?

Cynthia Cabrera: As the marijuana industry has managed to do, leaving hemp regulation to the states is a no-brainer. First and foremost, stricter regulations will severely impact the economy and labor market.

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The sale and production of hemp-derived cannabinoids generated $79 billion in economic activity last year, according to industry research, with states collecting in excess of $1.5 billion in tax revenue from $28 billion in sales, according to Whitney Economics.

Furthermore, the industry has created hundreds of thousands of jobs, underscoring the huge and growing market for hemp-based, low-THC products. Similar to what we’ve seen for decades in marijuana policy, increased regulations, product restrictions and outright bans will only strengthen the illicit market.

Any attempt to ban legitimate products would incentivize dangerous underground labs and ensure street level black market sales which historically overexpose minors to illicit products.

Ganjly: Can you elaborate on the advocacy strategies that Hometown Hero is employing in Congress to influence hemp legislation?

Cynthia Cabrera: We are advocating for sensible oversight of hemp-derived cannabinoids that protects consumers, prohibits access by minors, and safeguards the entire supply chain. We have been in Washington, D.C., meeting with members of the House Agriculture Committee leading up to the markup date for the reauthorization of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.

This is a critical step in the legislative process and will provide insights to industry where members stand on matters concerning the hemp program and possibly, hemp finished goods. Our strategy is simple, “don’t mess with hemp.”

We continue to demonstrate the positive economic and social impact the hemp industry is having on farmers, businesses and consumers. Any changes will inevitably negatively impact these groups. We’re doing the same at the local level, especially in Texas where the threat of product bans and excessive legislation was recently mentioned by Lieutenant Governor Patrick, not to mention our ongoing court case.

That’s why we formed the Texas Hemp Business Council. We did this to help ensure that these consumer goods remain legal in Texas, while giving adult consumers and veterans continued access to hemp products that have become vital to their everyday lives. We’re also doing the same in other states such as Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, among many others.

Ganjly: What are some of the recent legal challenges facing the hemp industry, and how has Hometown Hero responded to these challenges?

Cynthia Cabrera: We are lobbying against product bans and pushing for an adaptive and appropriate regulatory framework, supporting adult access and responsible marketing.. The hemp product segment and manufacturers are facing new legislative challenges across the country.

This month Connecticut was the latest state to regulate and restrict hemp products. That followed Georgia and Iowa’s recent push to regulate while Illinois lawmakers and a marijuana industry trade group are calling for bans on Delta-8, Delta-10 and other hemp-derived products in that state.

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Ganjly: How do state legislative efforts align or conflict with federal initiatives concerning hemp?

Cynthia Cabrera: With the Farm Bill legalizing hemp, states have created a patchwork of laws and regulations. Hemp regulation and enforcement have been essentially up to each individual state’s government. For example, Texas has regulated hemp products since 2019 which includes company registration, full panel testing for all consumable cannabinoids, licensing, and labeling requirements.

Certificates of analysis are also required to be available to every consumer and the public at large. Many other states that allow the sale of hemp-derived cannabinoids have similar laws. The challenge, however, is adapting to a sporadic compliance network. That’s why we manufacture all of our products under strict compliance, produced in small batches and manufactured under established good manufacturing practices.

We test thoroughly and often. We also do full-panel testing by ISO 17025 certified labs. We provide clear labeling including ingredient lists and links to certificates of analysis, along with child-resistant packaging. Plus, we ensure age-verified sales.

Ganjly: As a founding board member of the Texas Hemp Business Council and chair of the Cannabinoids Council, how do you foster collaboration across different stakeholders in the hemp industry?

Cynthia Cabrera: We founded the Texas Hemp Business Council to help ensure that these consumer goods remain legal in Texas, while giving adult consumers and veterans continued access to hemp products that have become vital to their everyday lives. The economic impact of hemp industry in Texas is more than $8 billion annually, and the industry employs 50,000 workers and contributes to a $22 billion supply chain.

We are bringing our entire industry together – from farmers to manufacturers to consumer advocates – so we can fight the good fight in our home state, which is going to be tough to say the least. For instance, we will be at the capitol on May 29 to testify during the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs to push for the continued sale of hemp products in our state.

We’re doing the same at the national level. Moreover, although some marijuana operators are blaming hemp products for the slump in sales, we believe there are opportunities to work together and focus on mutual benefits. This is evident as more marijuana companies add hemp-derived cannabinoids to their product line-ups.

These marijuana businesses, especially in states without adult-use legalization or retail, are seeing big swings in adoption, from gummies to baked goods. In the 26 states that do not allow recreational marijuana, perhaps these markets are ripe with joint business opportunities for marijuana and hemp players to develop novel low-THC offerings.

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Ganjly: What impact do you believe the proposed changes to the hemp definition could have on the economy, particularly in states where hemp is a major agricultural product?

Cynthia Cabrera: The economic impact of the hemp industry in Texas generates more than $8 billion annually, while the industry employs 50,000 workers and contributes to a $22 billion supply chain. Here in Texas, the hemp industry is a major economic engine and labor force.

The potential impact of definitional changes to hemp could be significant, from the loss of manufacturing and farming jobs to destroying small business altogether. Since the Farm Bill’s passage, retail markets have been established around the world, but few are as influential or bigger than Texas.

Millions of adults nationwide rely on CBD and hemp-derived cannabinoids for a variety of reasons, from improving wellness and lifestyle to combating stress and anxiety. Veterans and active military are also turning to these types of products as an alternative to opioids and other pharmaceuticals, as well as to manage Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and other challenges.

Ganjly: With the potential for stricter regulations, how might consumer safety be improved or impacted?

Cynthia Cabrera: Hometown Hero has long practiced and supported appropriate regulations for products made and sold under established good manufacturing practices, as well as full-panel testing from DEA-certified labs with certificates of analysis, child resistant packaging, clear labeling, and third-party age verification for online sales, as well as prohibiting sales to those under the age of 21.

History has shown that natural cannabinoid consumption does not present public health and safety risks like those from alcohol and tobacco. Hemp-derived Delta-8 cannabinoids have been in the marketplace for many years without incident. These products are for adult use only and continue to be enjoyed safely by millions of people, many of whom are veterans, as alternatives to marijuana and opioids.

Ganjly: Looking ahead, what are your predictions for the future of the hemp industry in the next five years?

Cynthia Cabrera: We will get some clarity on rules and regulations in the upcoming Farm Bill, but there’s plenty of concern that uncertainty will continue to plague operators, consumers and the overall industry. The hemp-derived products segment is booming in several markets across the country, so I’m optimistic lawmakers won’t hinder the economic and job growth this industry has created the last several years.

Thank you so much, Cynthia for doing the interview. To learn more about Cynthia and Hometown Hero, head on over to HometownHero.com.


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