Budding industry: 2018 farm bill to bring new opportunity for local CBD distributor

With the passing of the 2018 farm bill, which classified hemp as an agricultural commodity, and the Texas legislative session to begin in days, local CBD distributors and enthusiasts have high hopes for the future of such products in the Rio Grande Valley.

Raul Hinojosa, co-owner of Cura CBD, makes CBD products from his McAllen home. He sells oils, vape cartridges and pre-rolled cigarettes made from hemp flower, which he also sells separately per gram.

The flower Hinojosa sells looks and smells just like marijuana. In fact, it wasn’t until the 2014 farm bill passed that the two were distinguished legally. In the bill, industrial hemp and hemp-derived products became legal across the United States. Hemp was then legally defined as having less than 0.3 percent THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.

CBD, or cannabidiol, which is what Hinojosa’s products contain, is non-psychoactive, but has proven to provide relief for common ailments, as well as epilepsy.

The plant’s cultivation remains illegal in 11 states, including Texas. In the 2018 farm bill passed in Dec. 20, hemp became classified as an agricultural commodity and the plant itself was removed from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s controlled substances list. States will now have to create their own regulatory frameworks to be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Raul Hinojosa, 28, of Mission, co-owner of Cura CBD, shows legal hemp flower at a Starbucks in McAllen on January, 2, 2019. (J. Edward Moreno | emoreno@themonitor.com)

With over a dozen marijuana-related bills filed for the upcoming Texas legislative session, the push to end the ban on industrial hemp production has gained widespread bipartisan support, most notably from Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. The staunch social conservative sees hemp as a potential cash crop, as it was in the years before marijuana prohibition.

“This is all about taking the shackles off the American farmer,” Miller said in a news release. “It is time to finally end the ban on industrial hemp and free Texas farmers to produce this valuable commodity. In today’s economy, our farmers need maximum flexibility to diversify their production and thrive. When our farmers do well, they can provide for their families, grow our rural communities and ensure we have the food, clothing and medicine we all need.”

Miller and many Texas Republicans, however, have made it clear that they are not in favor of the recreational use of the plant. Instead, Miller would like Texas to produce hemp for uses that include biofuels, medicine, construction and textiles.

“Let’s be clear: This is not the backdoor to legalizing marijuana,” Miller said. “Hate to break it to the potheads, but marijuana is still illegal in Texas and under federal law. Ending the ban on hemp won’t change that. This is about giving farmers another opportunity to thrive.”

Hinojosa hopes to open up a shop selling his locally produced CBD products in the next month or so. He is one of a few CBD distributors in the Valley, but the only one locally who makes all his products. Once the laws are in place, he hopes to grow his own plants as well.

Currently, Hinojosa has about 50 regular customers, both in the U.S. and Mexico. He’s licensed as a cannabis therapist by the Medical Cannabis Institute, a medical training organization certified by the American Academy of Family Physicians, and offers treatment plans for some of his customers.

He first began exploring CBD products in 2014, around the time his grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer, in an effort to find an alternative remedy for his illness. Hinojosa said while using CBD products his tumor shrunk in size from that of a grapefruit to a lime. His grandfather later died from the disease.

“If I would’ve started doing this before maybe I could’ve had a bigger impact before he died,” Hinojosa said. “Then, I didn’t, but now I can help other people.”

Since then, Hinojosa said he has helped others overcome illnesses, such as a young boy with a blood deficiency. But overcoming the stigma associated with the plant has proven to be an obstacle. Simply seeing a marijuana leaf can be jarring for some, Hinojosa said. In one instance, he tried to print labels for his products at an Office Depot and was refused because they thought he was engaged in illegal activity.

“Growing up, my family always told me weed is bad, and that’s it,” Hinojosa said. “You should’ve seen their reaction the first time they saw the hemp flower.”

The family eventually accepted hemp, but their business ventures, for now, await the acceptance of Texas politicians.