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USDA signs off on hemp regulations, which take effect March 22

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackU.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has signed off on regulations for the hemp industry, which are to take effect later this month.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack approved the regulations after a recent review of the work done on the hemp program under the previous U.S. administration.

“The rule has now been cleared by Secretary Vilsack to move forward as published in the Federal Register,” Bill Richmond of USDA’s Domestic Hemp Production Program, wrote in an email to hemp stakeholders on Monday.

Long-awaited

USDA released the long-awaited final regulations in January, indicating clear guidance for stakeholders but also raising concern about some policies, including requirements for testing of hemp plants. Stakeholders have said delayed enforcement of some provisions regarding sampling and testing would allow producers a period to adjust to the new rules.

And many have objected to a role for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the hemp program, noting the U.S. Farm Bill’s express removal of hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. The drug agency has aggressively and persistently asserted itself in matters affecting the hemp industry, to the dismay of stakeholders. Under the rules, THC testing must be carried out at DEA certified laboratories beginning Dec. 31, 2022.

Final authorization by the USDA means the rules won’t be changed ahead of the March 22 effective date, but those unhappy with the rules said they’ll continue to advocate for improvements.

Guiding stakeholders

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service said the new regulations aim “to ensure longstanding as well as new programs are structured and resourced appropriately and to ensure programs are implemented to best serve their intended stakeholders.”

USDA published interim hemp rules in October 2019, then received 5,900 responses during a 60-day public comment period ahead of setting the final regulations released in January 2021.

In addition to THC, provisions in the USDA rules cover licensing requirements, recordkeeping for hemp fields, disposal of noncompliant plants, and procedures for handling violations, among others. Key among them:

  • Hemp must be tested for total THC content, rather than delta-9 THC alone.
  • Samples for THC testing are to be taken exclusively from flowers at the top of the plant, rather than from other parts of the plant or whole-plant samples, a practice the USDA said is consistent with the sampling practices in many states that established hemp programs under the original 2014 Farm Bill.
  • Farmers can burn “hot” crops or plow them under, a change from preliminary USDA rules which called for law enforcement or other authorized parties to collect and destroy them.

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