Funding bill would provide delay sought by U.S. hemp interests

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A U.S. government funding bill proposed this week carries a provision that would let states continue to operate under previous rules for industrial hemp, setting aside for the moment regulations under the 2018 Farm Bill in states which have yet to receive federal approval for their hemp programs.

Stakeholders have said the coronavirus pandemic has made it impossible to rewrite state laws by Oct. 31, the deadline by which states must comply with new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hemp guidelines based on the 2018 bill, which legalized industrial hemp nationally. Some hemp interests have also said the new rules are too strict and should be revised.

‘Positive development’

Democrats in the House of Representatives offered the proposal in a supplementary funding bill; it would allow hemp operators to be guided by provisions in a pilot program set out by the previous Farm Bill, enacted in 2014. That program would essentially be extended under the proposal floated this week.

“We see this as a positive development for hemp farmers across the country,” Patrick Atagi, president of the National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC), a trade group, said in a statement. “The hemp industry isn’t any different from other facets of our economy that have been adversely affected by COVID.

“We’ve continued to tell Congress that a global pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for states to meet and develop plans to be submitted to the USDA for approval before the expiration of the pilot program,” Atagi said.

Cash savings

In addition to roadblocks created by the coronavirus pandemic, some hemp companies have said USDA rules such as a tight 15-day window for harvesting hemp after samples are tested for THC, and a requirement for tests to be performed by DEA-approved laboratories, are too restrictive.

NIHC and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture earlier asked for a delay in implementing the 2018 Farm Bill, noting that holding off would let farmers and producers avoid what USDA estimates as $17,000 (€14,500) in compliance costs.

Sen. Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Sen. Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado, also have petitioned the USDA to delay implementation of rules under the 2018 Farm Bill.

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