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Half of US States Non-Compliant With USDA Guidelines for Hemp Starting in November

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has warned several states that they will not meet the upcoming deadline for implementing a single set of nationwide hemp-production rules. Nearly half of U.S. states that allow cultivation of hemp this year are doing so under 2014 regulations, which were grandfather for a year period when the 2018 Farm Bill passed. The grandfather period ends on October 31, 2020.

Only around 20 states have their own USDA-approved plans which align with the Interim Final Rules (IFR) the USDA released in October 2019. Some of the large hemp-producing states which will not meet current requirements include Kentucky, Oregon, and California. States have until August 15, 2020 to submit plans if they want to continue overseeing their own hemp industries instead of using the federal default (when it is developed).

Colorado, another large hemp producing state, also has not received approval for their plan. Brian Koontz, the state’s industrial hemp manager state however, that they submitted their plan tot he USda on June 18th for approval, but have not received a response. Koontz went on to state that the USDA has 60 days to respond, so the Colorado should receive an answer on their plan by August 17 or 18.

Two U.S. senators have already asked the USDA to delay the IFR until “several concerns” from states are addressed. These include:

  • More disposal options for non-compliant crops.
  • Requiring growers to test plants within 15 days of the anticipated harvest.
  • Farmers possibly facing criminal charges if their plants have more than 0.3% THC. The plants would have to be destroyed and if the plants test at 0.5% THC or more, growers can be criminally liable.

“These are things that do not take a legislative fix, but they are things that could be addressed through rule-making. So it’s very important that collectively we are conveying our concerns,” said Courtney Moran, chief legislative director for Agricultural Hemp Solutions.

Government Confusion Regarding Hemp Plans

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer sent a letter on August 7th asking the USDA to delay the new rules until 2022. “Regulating this rapidly-emerging industry is a must, but the timing of new regulations is important and the current economic crisis must be considered,” Schumer said.

Many states have stated that their plans are being delayed by the national COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. House recently passed legislation that would delay the USDA rules until 2022, but the bill still needs Senate approval.

The USDA has openly stated that they have no plans to delay the new rule implimentation.

“The provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill expire on Oct. 31, 2020,” an agency spokesman wrote. “After that time, all domestic hemp must be grown under either an approved state or tribal plan or under a USDA hemp production plan in states or tribes that have chosen not to operate their own plan.”

Oregon’s Concerns With the New Rules

Sunny Summers, the coordinator of cannabis policy and special projects at the Oregon Department of Agriculture said the state was working on a draft plan to submit to the USDA by Saturday’s deadline. She said she hopes the new rules take effect in January, not on Nov. 1.

“Our licenses and registrations are good through the calendar year,” Summers said. “And so making the change Nov. 1st is not a good way to operate a program. So I’m just going to be honest, that’s really confusing for people in the industry when they’re kind of struggling to figure out which end (is) up.”

Summers said she’s also concerned about farmers opening themselves to criminal prosecution if their crops test above the THC limit for hemp.

“There is a large percentage of hemp growers that are new to farming at all, much less, this particular crop with its own specific nuances,” she said. “And so penalizing people, who in all good faith were trying to grow hemp, because they tested at 0.5% or above doesn’t seem reasonable to us.”