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More Senators Push For Changes to USDA Industrial Hemp Rules

Last month Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley urged the USDA to make several changes as it develops its final rule for the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program. Today the Free Press is reporting that Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have joined them in calling on the USDA to make changes to proposed hemp regulations to better help farmers seeking to grow industrial hemp.

Responding to concerns raised by farmers from their home state of Virginia, the senators encouraged the USDA, in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, to make several specific changes to draft plans regulating the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program, which was established by Congress as part of the 2018 Farm Bill.

“We appreciate USDA’s commitment to developing a viable U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program for hemp producers in Virginia and across the country. We look forward to working with you to ensure Virginia hemp growers are able to take full advantage of this opportunity,” the senators wrote in the letter to Perdue.

Among the issues the senators raised in their letter:

  • USDA’s interim final rule requires growers to test hemp plants within 15 days of anticipated harvest. The Senators urged USDA to adopt a more reasonable testing timeframe of 30 days to reduce burdens to hemp producers and reduce unnecessary delays in getting products to market.USDA’s interim final rules requires that hemp plant testing must be conducted by a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-registered laboratory, but there are only a small number of DEA-registered labs. The Senators urged USDA to remove the requirement that testing can only occur at DEA-registered labs and allow testing to be conducted at independent testing labs that meet USDA standards.

  • USDA’s interim final rule establishes a negligence threshold for hemp at 0.5% delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). If a grower is found to have hemp with a THC level above 0.5% they could face legal repercussions under the current guidelines. The Senators urged USDA to raise the threshold to 1.0% THC before a grower is subject to penalties, since it is possible hemp growers could take all the necessary steps and precautions to produce hemp according to the guidelines and still produce hemp plants that exceed the 0.5% THC concentration due to factors out of their control. The Senators also urged USDA to examine mediation options to deal with growers who accidentally exceed the THC threshold.

  • The senators also asked USDA to offer “maximum flexibility” to states when it comes to implementing industrial hemp production, noting that their own state is in the process of developing a State Action Plan to adhere to the 2018 Farm Bill and USDA rule-making, but that the General Assembly in many states, is only in session for a short period, and it is possible that USDA will issue a final rule after many state's General Assemblies have already completed their 2020 session.

Warner and Kaine championed Virginia's legislation to legalize the production of industrial hemp, a crop which was already being cultivated for research purposes there. Hemp is distinct from marijuana in that it has a miniscule concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and thus no narcotic capability.

The plant is estimated to be used in more than 50,000 products spanning agriculture, textiles, recycling, automotive, furniture, food, nutrition, beverages, paper, construction materials, and personal care. In September, Warner and Kaine successfully secured Virginia’s inclusion in a pilot to develop a crop insurance program for industrial hemp.

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