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USDA Extends Comment Period for Its Hemp Rules

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Sep 07, 2020   
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Farmers and other workers in the US hemp sector have been given more time to voice their criticisms on the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) incoming hemp regulations.

Since the interim final rules were released last year, many hemp workers have been critical of the requirements pertaining to THC testing.

Now, following the USDA’s decision to reopen the rules’ comment period, any hemp farmer or member of the public wishing to comment on the regulations can do so until October 8.

The final rule

With the passing of the Farm Bill, hemp became federally legal in the US from December 2018. Yet, this newfound legality came without any official guidance. As such, many licensed hemp businesses still found themselves at odds with insurance providers, some of which continued to deny coverage to hemp companies.

To help bring some clarity on how the industry should operate, the USDA published its interim final rules (IFR) last October, the comment period for which ended on December 30, 2019.

But now, following key criticisms from many in the hemp industry, the comment period has been reopened.

“All stakeholders are invited to provide comments, especially those who were subject to the regulatory requirements of the IFR during the 2020 production cycle,” a statement from the USDA reads.

The department says it is most interested in receiving public comments regarding:

  • Measurement of uncertainty for sampling.
  • Liquid chromatography factor.
  • Disposal and remediation of non-compliant plants.
  • Negligence.
  • Interstate commerce.
  • The 15-day harvest window.
  • Hemp seedlings, microgreens, and clones.
  • Hemp breeding and research.
  • Sampling methodology – flower versus whole plant.
  • Sampling methodology – homogeneous composition, frequency, and volume.
  • Sampling agents.
  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) laboratory registration.

The latter rule regarding DEA oversight has drawn a particularly large deal of outcry since it was first announced last October.

In detail, the edict requires hemp producers to have their products tested for THC at labs certified by the DEA. But since last October, many farmers have highlighted how few DEA-licensed labs there are – a factor, they say, that could easily impede testing across the country.

In response, the USDA delayed implementing the testing rule this February.

“Under this [new] guidance, the testing can be conducted by labs that are not yet DEA registered until the final rule is published, or Oct. 31, 2021, whichever comes first,” the agency stated at the time.

Others in the industry have also taken issue with the proposal of limiting a “harvest window” to just 15 days. And many farmers feel that the requirement to dispose of “non-compliant plants” could lead to the unnecessary destruction of crops that temporarily breach the 0.3 percent-THC threshold (hot hemp).

In response to the USDA’s reopening of the comment period, Patrick Atagi, board chairman of the National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC), said that, “We certainly hope that [the USDA’s] announcement is an indication that USDA is moving in the direction of extending the hemp pilot program for another year.”

“The NIHC will be filing comments and we’re encouraging our individual members to do so as well,” he added in a statement.


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