USDA Listens to Public Comments on Hemp Regulations


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) held a webinar on Wednesday during which stakeholders offered suggestions for hemp regulations, which was recently legalized through the 2018 Farm Bill.

Bruce Summers, the USDA’s agricultural marketing service administrator, said the Department is looking to have the regulations finalized in time for the 2020 farming season.

One of the main concerns for growers, processors, advocates, and state agricultural departments was the issue of testing for THC levels. They stressed the need for accredited laboratories with uniform testing procedures across the country to avoid discrepancies in results.

Jessica Wasserman, a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based Greenspoon Marder LLP, also urged the USDA to set  reasonable rules around when hemp is tested for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Wasserman noted that Oregon tests “no more than 28 days prior to harvest,” and that Washington is moving toward post-harvest testing. Since hemp is a biomass, THC results will vary depending upon when the plant is tested. Once the plant is tested and certified, it should not be subjected to re-testing, said Wasserman.

“We know that setting a farm testing date and certification protocol will prevent the situation of Oregon biomass [hemp] being inappropriately stopped when being transhipped across neighboring states,” said Wasserman, referencing recent incidents during which hemp, in transport, was intercepted and suspected of being marijuana.

Safe transportation of hemp across state lines heavily figured into the suggestions. Colin Mooney, executive director for Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance highlighted the challenges law enforcement officials could run into while checking for the legality of hemp.

“Industrial hemp plant looks like the marijuana plant and cannot be distinguished by appearance or odor,” Mooney said. “Currently, available field kits only test for the presence of THC regardless of concentration.”

As a result, it could lead to mistaken arrests and traffic delays, he added.

(US Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams, also the chair of the Department of Justice Marijuana Working Group, talked to Cannabis Wire in an exclusive interview about how the DOJ is thinking about hemp transport and potential enforcement issues.)

Several people even questioned the 0.3 percent THC level as the ceiling for legal hemp.

“This is something we definitely have to revisit,” said Dr. Ernst Cebert, a research associate professor at the Alabama A&M University. “Because that number is simply used as a default, without truly knowing where it came from.”

The legal status of cannabidiol (CBD) also remained a question mark for many commenters, including Ryan Quarles, Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture, who called for clarity on what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to do with hemp-derived CBD.

“If the FDA regulates too hard against CBD, it would really harm small Kentucky family farmers,” Quarles said. “We need to develop rules that allow farmers the opportunity to continue exploring this crop and benefiting economically from it, especially during a period of depreciating farm receipts.”

Some commenters called for state and federal databases on hemp. Samantha Brenner, speaking on behalf of North Dakota Agricultural Commissioner Doug Goehring, suggested using existing systems developed by the National Agricultural Statistics Service to report on the number of hemp acres being planted in different states.

Erin Buke, a compliance officer at a community bank in Colorado, asked for a database where lending institutions can cross-check the information provided to them by hemp growers and producers regarding licensing and any associated violations, THC- testing results, and more.

One commenter asked for data and prepared research on the global hemp market and the demand for U.S. industrial hemp as an export. They also brought up the issue of export regulations surrounding hemp.

“Would the exporter be required to obtain a license from the DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency], similar to requirements for exportation of beer and wine, or from the USDA?” they asked. (There was no answer because the USDA informed participants prior to the webinar that they would not be answering questions.)

Advocates for Native American tribes, minorities, and veterans urged the USDA to ensure their regulations take the needs of the groups into account.

Patty Marks, an attorney with Fredericks, Peebles and Morgan, a law firm that represents Native American tribes, asked the USDA to issue a temporary guidance that would allow tribes in states where there is no pilot program to grow hemp in fall 2019.

“The loss of this growing season is going to cost jobs and economic opportunities to a number of tribes that desperately need it,” she said.

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