Agriculture

USDA Releases Domestic Hemp Program Guidelines

By Harris Wheless

On Oct. 29, 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the establishment of the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program. This program, which is one of the requirements included in the 2018 Farm Bill, will create a consistent regulatory framework around hemp production in the United States. 

The Farm Bill, which was passed last December, legalized the production of hemp and removed it from the list of controlled substances. 

The USDA has also released a draft of the guidelines under which the hemp program will be established. These guidelines were published in the Federal Register and must undergo a 60-day public comment period before they are finalized.

The program will allow hemp to be grown under federally-approved plans and make hemp producers eligible for several agricultural programs, including crop insurance.

At USDA, we are always excited when there are new economic opportunities for our farmers, and we hope the ability to grow hemp will pave the way for new products and markets.”

– U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a press release.

Perdue also noted, “We have had teams operating with all hands-on-deck to develop a regulatory framework that meets Congressional intent while seeking to provide a fair, consistent, and science-based process for states, tribes, and individual producers who want to participate in this program.”

The guidelines include provisions for the USDA to approve hemp production plans developed by states and Native American tribes. These provisions will require states and tribes to maintain information on the land where the hemp is produced, test the levels of cannabis compounds in the plant, and dispose of plants that do not meet the USDA’s requirements.

The guidelines also establish a federal plan for hemp producers in states or on reservations that don’t have USDA-approved plans. 

The USDA said it will soon begin accepting regulatory plans from states and tribes. Once the guidelines are finalized, the department will begin to evaluate any plans that have been submitted and will make a determination within 60 days. 

The public release of the guidelines came a few days after the White House Office of Management and Budget finalized its review of these proposed regulations.

The establishment of this regulatory framework also means states will no longer be allowed to stop the interstate shipment of hemp that is lawfully produced under the regulations. 

The USDA has also developed and released guidelines for sampling and testing procedures. These documents will provide additional information for sampling agents and hemp testing laboratories. 

Samples must be collected two weeks prior to a crop’s anticipated harvest date and be tested at Drug Enforcement Administration-registered laboratories. 

One provision introduced in the 2018 Farm Bill banned people with felony drug convictions from working in the legal cannabis industry. 

The USDA stated in the guidelines that this ban will only apply to “key participants,” or chief executives who have direct power over and a financial interest in the business. Maintenance workers and people in other management positions will be exempt from the ban. 

Although these guidelines will result in more regulation of hemp production, the FDA still has yet to release any rules or guidelines for CBD products, which most hemp businesses use the crop to produce.

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