The fog of regulatory ambiguity is fading with the rollout of official guidelines for industrial hemp growers in the U.S.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has outlined provisions to approve domestic hemp production, and sets requirements for its producers. Those requirements include licensing, maintaining information on the land where hemp is grown, complying with procedures and provisions, testing updated THC amounts, and handling policy violations.
The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill directed the USDA to establish a national regulatory framework for domestic hemp production. The commodity is used in fabric, paper, construction materials, food products, cosmetics and the production of cannabidiol or CBD. Prices for hemp, driven primarily by demand for use in CBD production, have motivated increased planting. Industrial hemp is already produced in Virginia, with 1,142 registered growers and 2,244 acres planted, according to Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.
While provisions require hemp farmers to report planted acreage, the new rule also makes hemp eligible for federal crop insurance, USDA loans and numerous conservation programs.
“A tremendous amount of agronomic research must be pursued to determine the best methods for producing industrial hemp for whatever intended purpose— fiber, grain or oil,” Banks said. “We need to look at the varieties that are currently available to see which ones produce the best for given end-use in Virginia.”
The farm bill removed hemp from the list of controlled substances. THC, the intoxicating component of cannabis, must be concentrated at or below .3% for a crop to be legally classified as hemp, and not marijuana—a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
THC concentration can vary greatly depending on when a crop is tested, and Virginia farmers have expressed concerns that the USDA’s new testing protocol is too stringent.
“The rule will standardize THC testing procedures, which should help growers in the market by taking out some of the ambiguity,” Banks said. “The older the plant gets, the higher the THC concentration. Part of the protocol says plants must be sampled within 15 days of harvest.”
Public comment on the rule is welcome at regulations.gov through Dec. 30. After reviewing and evaluating the comments, the USDA will adjust, draft and publish a final rule.