By Sarah Gonzalez, Director of Communications and Digital Media
After requests from lawmakers and state officials seeking additional time to provide feedback, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is allowing an extra month for public comment on its proposed industrial hemp regulations.
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced Dec. 17 it is extending the comment period for the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program interim final rule from Dec. 30 to Jan. 29.
The interim rule – as authorized by the 2018 farm law – took effect Oct. 31 and established testing protocols to distinguish between legal hemp and federally controlled marijuana. The rule also provides legal protection for interstate transportation of hemp and makes producers eligible for federal programs, including loans and crop insurance coverage. Under the new rule, states and tribes may submit their own plans for the domestic production of hemp to USDA for approval, and USDA is responsible for establishing a federal plan for states and tribes that do not have their own USDA-approved plan.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D- N.Y., is one of many lawmakers expressing concern about the parameters of the USDA regulations. “This has tremendous, tremendous potential, and all the excitement about growing and processing hemp, and creating lots of jobs, could go away if these rules are done in too narrow and restrictive a way,” he said.
Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both from Virginia, outlined several concerns about the interim rule in a Dec. 18 letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, including: The requirement that hemp plant testing must be conducted by Drug Enforcement Administration laboratories; the requirement that growers test hemp plants within 15 days of anticipated harvest; and the negligence threshold for hemp set at 0.5 percent delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
“If a grower is found to have hemp with a THC level above 0.5 percent, they could face legal repercussions under the current guidelines,” the senators noted. “We are concerned that the…threshold is arbitrary and far too low considering THC levels can vary widely depending on a number of factors, including weather and geography.”
Oregon senators outlined similar concerns in a Nov. 20 letter.
More information about the provisions of the USDA interim final rule is available on the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program web page on the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) website.