One-year extension of hemp pilot is on congressional agenda

The 2018 farm law legalized cultivation of industrial hemp, with the USDA to oversee state regulation of the crop to assure uniformity.

The government-funding bill proposed by House Democrats on Monday would allow states to operate until Sept. 30, 2021, under the rules of the industrial hemp pilot program created by the 2014 farm bill. The hemp industry and state agriculture officials say the pandemic has made it impossible to rewrite state laws by Oct. 31, the current deadline to comply with new USDA regulations for hemp.

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

The 2018 farm law legalized cultivation of industrial hemp, with the USDA to oversee state regulation of the crop to assure uniformity. Besides the practicalities of writing new state regulations and submitting them for USDA approval, some hemp growers were concerned that some provisions in the 2019 USDA regulations, such as the 15-day window for harvesting hemp after collecting samples for THC testing and a requirement for tests to be performed by DEA-approved laboratories, could prove onerous. The hemp council and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture asked Congress on Aug. 5 for a one-year extension of the deadline.

Separately, the Hemp Industries Association and a hemp manufacturer RE Botanicals Inc challenged a DEA regulation as unduly restrictive. The petition filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit says the regulation could be interpreted as meaning that hemp derivatives that exceed the statutory 0.3% THC limit during processing violate U.S. drug laws although the finished products contain less than 0.3% THC. “The DEA’s new rule could put us out of business overnight,” said Janel Ralph, chief executive of RE Botanicals.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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