What Did Canopy Growth Say to the White House About USDA Hemp Regs?


The global cannabis industry has been eagerly awaiting national hemp production regulations from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) since the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law nearly one year ago.

The USDA submitted its interim final rule, titled “Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program,” to the White House Office of Management and Budget on June 27 for interagency review. Only one meeting has so far been held with this office on this item, and it took place on September 9. The requestor? Canopy Growth, one of the highest valued cannabis companies in the world.

The company has a lot at stake in how these regulations turn out. Canopy this year chose Broome County, New York for its industrial hemp park (or, in other words, its US hemp headquarters). And in July, Cannabis Wire first reported on Canopy Growth’s entry into cannabis lobbying in the US, as the company is also in the process of acquiring multistate operator Acreage Holdings.

Cannabis Wire has learned that those present for the meeting included: Kelly Fair, US General Counsel for Canopy; David Culver, Vice President of US Government and Stakeholder Relations for Canopy; Jordan Bonfitto, White House policy advisor on agriculture; Christine Kourtides of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP); and, from the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Karyn Gorman, Libby Ashley, Brenda Aguilar, and Elyse Greenwald.

Further, Cannabis Wire has obtained Canopy’s presentation during the meeting, which includes their recommendations to the USDA regarding everything from THC testing, to interstate transportation, to seed certification. 

For example, on “consistent sampling methods,” Canopy’s recommendation read, “THC levels can vary significantly in the week before harvest due to weather and sun conditions beyond the farmer’s control. Setting sampling for 30 days prior to harvest yields consistent testing results.”

On “ensuring smooth interstate transport,” Canopy’s recommendation read, “All hemp should move freely in the U.S. regardless of any state restrictions on sale or processing as long as it is from a registered grower and not ‘marijuana’ or another controlled substance. Hemp should also be allowed to exceed 0.3% THC if it is being transferred for additional processing at destination, e.g. distillate for use in manufacturing.”

You can read the presentation here.

What’s the backstory on the USDA’s process to-date? 

The USDA has said the rules will be released in time for farmers to plan for the 2020 season. Once they are released, which should be any day now, there will be a public comment period. 

In February, the USDA held its first listening session for public input on the implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill. Top issues raised were access to crop insurance and banking services, organic certification, and guidelines for transportation. 

THC testing proved to be a particular sticking point for the USDA and stakeholders.  As Cannabis Wire reported in February, Courtney Moran, an attorney and president of the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association, pushed for delta-9 THC level tests and not total THC.

“Testing for total THC will favor foreign varieties and imports, having a significant negative financial impact on domestic breeders and the varieties farmers across the U.S. have been growing for the last 4 years,” she said.

Testing came up again during a March webinar held by the USDA, as stakeholders pushed for uniform testing procedures across the US.

As Cannabis Wire reported then, Jessica Wasserman, a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based Greenspoon Marder LLP, noted the importance of when testing occurs, as THC levels will be different before and after harvest. 

In late July and late August, there were two more major developments. First, the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing titled “Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill,” which Cannabis Wire covered. Along with representatives from the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, two officials from the USDA provided updates: Greg Ibach, undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs and Stephen Alexander Vaden, general counsel. Second, in late August, the EPA opened a public comment period as it seeks to determine approved pesticides for hemp cultivation.

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