USDA Draft Hemp Rules Await White House Approval

Photo: Unsplash

Photo: Unsplash

Originally Appeared in Let’s Talk Hemp Newsletter, September 2019
By Steven Hoffman

While USDA has up to a year to finalize regulations governing hemp cultivation in the U.S., the agency submitted draft federal rules to the White House in mid-September to assure states and farmers they can participate in the 2020 growing season.

The hemp industry is anxiously awaiting federal rules for the cultivation of hemp in the United States, and it may soon get its wish. In mid-September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) completed a draft of proposed rules for growing hemp and submitted the document to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and approval.

The new USDA regulations are expected to clarify changes that were included in the U.S. Farm Bill, which was passed into law in December 2018. Currently, most state hemp growing programs are operating under older rules included in the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill. The new USDA rules are expected to provide clarity on the legal definition of hemp and reinforce that hemp has been removed from the controlled substances list by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). According to UPI, the new rules also are expected to designate hemp as a commodity crop, simplify rules for interstate hemp commerce, and allow for tribal nations and U.S. territories to participate in hemp growing programs.

Originally scheduled for release on August 1 in advance of the 2020 growing season, William Richmond, USDA’S Director of the Specialty Crops Program in the Agriculture Marketing Service, informed attendees of the American Herbal Products Association’s Hemp and CBD Congress held in Denver in mid-August that the regulations were delayed in part because USDA is struggling with a requirement in the 2018 Farm Bill for a national THC testing protocol. “Our goal is to provide a consistent, easy-to-follow regulatory framework around hemp production,” Richmond said at the AHPA Congress.

Other issues impacting the rapidly emerging hemp industry include the availability of crop insurance and banking services for farmers, approval pesticides for use on hemp crops, and the import of hemp seeds, Geoff Whaling, Chair of the Washington, DC-based National Hemp Association, told UPI. Whaling predicted the USDA rules would be released “in a matter of weeks.”

According to Hemp Industry Daily, the USDA regulations will be temporary for the first year, allowing states and farmers around the country to participate in the 2020 growing season and identify and iron out any small fixes. While the 2018 Farm Bill calls for federal authorities to allow states to set their own rules for hemp production, as long as certain criteria are met, states will need to get USDA approval first, a step, Hemp Industry Daily says, that won’t happen until after the national guidelines are released.

According to UPI, the OMB has scheduled meetings to receive initial public comments regarding the USDA hemp regulations. Once released, members of the hemp industry will be invited to submit feedback before final rules are issued.

The OMB, the largest office within the Executive Office of the President of the United States, is responsible for producing the President’s Budget, but also measures the quality of agency programs, policies and procedures to make sure they comply with the president’s policies. OMB also coordinates inter-agency policy initiatives, according to Wikipedia. Current OMB Director Mick Mulvaney also currently serves as Acting White House Chief of Staff for the Trump administration.