U.S. states get sought after delay on hemp compliance rules

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U.S. hemp companies in states not yet compliant under federal rules have received a delay that will let them continue operations as a result of a vote in the U.S. Senate.

The legislation, which was tacked on to a short-term government funding bill approved yesterday, had been sought by several states that have yet to develop hemp programs that meet requirements under the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill; it allows them to continue to operate under earlier rules that were part of a similar farming measure from 2014 that established the first pilot program for industrial hemp in the USA. States now have until September of next year to work out their programs with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Delay is cheered

“We’re thankful for both the House and the Senate for listening to us back in August when we wrote about the importance of this program,” said Patrick Atagi of the National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC), which was among those advocating for the delay. “With the Senate’s vote today, hemp farmers across the country will have more certainty tomorrow while states continue their important work to submit final plans to the USDA for approval.”

Roughly 20 states which have already had their hemp programs approved by USDA begin operating under the 2018 Farm Bill today. But some of the biggest hemp producing states such as Colorado and Kentucky have yet to receive that approval.

In seeking the delay, stakeholders in noncompliant states had said requirements under the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp federally, are too strict and should be revised, and cited financial challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic. NIHC, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and several Senators had asked for the delay, noting that it would let farmers and producers hit by the pandemic avoid compliance costs that could total as much as $17,000 (€14,500).

Rules changes sought

In calling for changes in USDA requirements under the 2018 Farm Bill, some hemp companies cited several rules they say will hamper their operations. USDA is addressing those concerns, in part, through a comment period that ends Oct. 8.

Among regulations USDA is considering changing are:

  • A mandated 15-day THC testing window that farmers say is too short; they’ve called for extending that period to 30 days.
  • A rule that THC tests be carried out exclusively by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) laboratories, which critics say will create bottlenecks due to a shortage of capacity. USDA temporarily lifted that rule earlier this year, so wants comments regarding its permanent removal.
  • Those that address handling of crops that go beyond the legal 0.3% THC limit. Currently, rules call for eradication of such crops, but producers say they can apply processes that will cut the THC level in final products. That rule was also suspended temporarily earlier this year.

Other U.S. agencies are also in the process of developing rules for hemp-derived products in accordance the 2018 Farm Bill. The Food & Drug Administration is developing regulations for CBD products, while the DEA has already laid out interim rules.

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