The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it wants to hear more from the public about proposed hemp regulations under the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill. USDA announced Friday it has reopened a public comment period to add viewpoints to the 4,600 already received by the agency.
The rule-making process has been closely watched by industry stakeholders, who interpreted the renewed comment period as a sign the USDA may be inclined to loosen up regulations affecting key issues. The comment period opens Tuesday, Sept. 8 and runs through Oct. 8. Individual persons can provide comments during the last 30 days of the period.
The USDA’s rule for hemp is set to take effect on Oct. 31, 2021. But critics have said the regulations as currently drafted threaten the industry. Lawmakers and stakeholders have called for a delay in implementation to revisit several issues. Should the rule be delayed, hemp growers and producers could continue to operate under the 2014 Farm Bill‘s pilot program if the government extends it beyond the end of October.
Among key issues that have been raised in past comments, and for which USDA seeks more input are:
• A rule mandating that hemp testing be exclusively through U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) laboratories, which critics say will create bottlenecks due to a shortage of capacity. USDA temporarily lifted that rule earlier this year, so wants comments regarding its permanent removal.
• Handling of crops that go beyond the legal 0.3% THC limit. Currently, rules call for eradication of such crops, but producers say they can apply processes that will cut the THC level in final products. That rule was also suspended temporarily earlier this year.
• Testing window at harvest. USDA is said to be open to extending a mandated 15-day testing window to 30 days to relieve pressure on farmers.
Other U.S. agencies are also in the process of developing rules for hemp-derived products vis a vis the 2018 Farm Bill. The Food & Drug Administration is developing regulations for CBD products, while the DEA has already laid out interim rules.