USDA on Wednesday announced its plans to promulgate regulations in fall 2019 regarding the commercial production of industrial hemp in the United States.
Under the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018—otherwise known as the 2018 Farm Bill—states and Indian tribes have the option to primarily regulate the production of hemp. That’s provided USDA approves their plans. But states and Indian tribes don’t need to submit plans until the agency adopts its regulations, according to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service in a notice to industry.
USDA will hold onto a submission if a state happens to submit a plan before the regulations are promulged. The notice proclaimed: “USDA is committed to completing its review of plans within 60 days once regulations are effective.”
At least one state acted immediately in response to the 2018 Farm Bill. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture submitted its regulatory plan for hemp production the same day President Donald Trump signed the bill.
“Kentucky is emerging as an epicenter for the American rapidly-growing hemp industry,” Ryan Quarles, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, wrote in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
For the 2019 planting season, states, tribes and institutions of higher education can continue operating under the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA said.
The 2014 Farm Bill authorized institutions of higher education and state agricultural departments to grow or cultivate industrial hemp under certain conditions. The scope of that bill—including whether it authorized commercial production and sale of hemp and hemp-based products—was long debated.
The 2018 legislation signed by Trump solved the dilemma. It removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and treated it as an agricultural commodity, allowing farmers to grow the crop and marketers to sell hemp-based products without interference from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“By removing hemp from the list of controlled substances and directing USDA to make hemp growers eligible to participate in federal farm programs on an equal footing with other crops, the new Farm Bill has laid the groundwork for full-scale commercialization of this promising crop,” Quarles wrote in his letter to Perdue.
He added, “I am particularly pleased that the Congress has recognized that state departments of agriculture, not federal agencies, can and should assume primary regulatory authority over hemp production within their jurisdictions.”
Vote Hemp, a nonprofit advocacy organization, met several weeks ago with USDA representatives regarding the upcoming rulemaking process.
“We are committed to ensuring that they [USDA representatives] are well informed about the potential of this crop as well as the need for limited regulation,” Vote Hemp wrote Wednesday in an email to its members. “We want USDA to treat hemp like other crops wherever possible. There are many aspects that must be figured out, including crop insurance, testing and how data will be shared between states/tribes and USDA.”
Among USDA’s obligations under the 2018 Farm Bill: establishing a plan to monitor and regulate the production of hemp in states or Indian tribes that do not have an approved state or tribal plan.
USDA plans to hold a webinar on March 13 regarding industrial hemp production, with more details forthcoming. The webinar will be open to the general public.
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