Top Senate Democrat Pushes USDA To Delay Hemp Rules Until 2022

The top Democrat in the Senate is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to delay issuing final regulations for hemp until 2022, citing stakeholder concerns and the challenges of state compliance that have arisen due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Friday that hemp farmers should be able to continue to operate under a regulatory pilot program established under the 2014 Farm Bill so that the department can hear feedback on interim rules for its broader program for the crop and make adjustments.

Hemp and its derivatives were broadly federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, and USDA has since approved numerous state, territory and tribal plans—most recently for Maryland and an Indian tribe last week. But industry representatives, as well as lawmakers, have made the case that certain proposals could kneecap the burgeoning market.

“When it comes to an industry as promising as industrial hemp in Upstate New York, the feds must do everything they can to nurture its potential,” Schumer said. “Regulating this rapidly-emerging industry is a must, but the timing of new regulations is important and the current economic crisis must be considered.”

As it stands, the earlier 2014 pilot program is set to expire on October 31. The minority leader isn’t alone in requesting an extension; state agriculture departments and a major hemp industry group made a similar request to both Congress and USDA this week.

Schumer said in a press release that he’s “urging USDA to delay their issuance of a final rule until 2022 so the hemp industry across the country and in Upstate New York has a chance to grow and create good-paying jobs at a time when jobs are needed the most” and that delaying the regulations “will help pull New York along in the recovery process as the nation deals with the impacts of the pandemic.”

In the letter to Perdue, the Democratic leader said that New York hemp farmers “have experienced serious difficulty integrating the Interim Final Rules into their operations.”

“Particularly in the current COVID climate, I see many farmers and processors in New York struggle with incorporating these changes into the existing state Pilot Programs,” he wrote. “In a time when farmers and producers struggle with economic uncertainty, the implementation of the Interim Final Rules will create costs without the support of offsetting revenues.”

“The Interim Final Rules provide a first step in developing regulations for the hemp industry. The critiques from the comment period will provide USDA with areas to consider revisions that further encourage economic opportunity for farmers and producers. However, COVID creates hurdles for states and producers to comply with the Interim Final Rules. Under the circumstances, the Interim Final Rules will harm the very businesses we hoped to help with this new agricultural commodity. We can easily remedy this situation by delaying implementation until January 2022 and allow states to continue under the 2014 Farm Bill until then. This will allow USDA to address some of the more pressing regulatory critiques while giving states and producers additional time to come into compliance.”

Schumer said that he fears rushing implementation of the final rule for hemp could exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we move into harvest season, farmers will need to operate with as much certainty as possible but timing and testing requirements will likely create bottlenecks that will push farmers to rush harvests,” he wrote. “The potential for greater numbers of people working in facilities to meet the rush may create opportunities for COVID to spread among farm workers.”

Two senators representing Oregon recently expressed concerns with the secretary that USDA appears positioned to reinstate two particular provisions of its interim final rule that stakeholders view as especially problematic. Those concern requirements, which the department temporarily suspended enforcement of, that labs that test hemp be registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration and that law enforcement be involved in disposal of the crop if it contains excess THC.

“We applaud Leader Schumer for this letter and his continued leadership on hemp issues,” Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, told Marijuana Moment. “We look forward to continuing to work with his staff and our other allies on Capitol Hill to delay implementation of regulations that impose significant burdens on hemp farmers who are already struggling with price declines and COVID responses.”

Allan Gandelman, president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, said in Schumer’s press release that the “costs and bureaucracy of implementing the new rules as written create unnecessary financial burdens on farmers and our state agencies.”

“The existing hemp pilot program has been sufficient in making sure farmers are complaint with all testing and public safety protocols,” he said. “We would like to see the pilot program extended until 2022 and the USDA modify the program to let hemp become a widespread agricultural commodity like Congress intended by the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.”

As it stands, 23 states have indicated to USDA that they intend to continue operating under the 2014 Farm Bill as the deadline for its expiration looms.

Read the full letter from Schumer to the USDA head below: 

“Dear Secretary Perdue,

I write in regard to deep concerns that USDA’s U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program Interim Final Rules will hinder the advancement of the hemp industry and create significant compliance costs both for State Governments and producers. Despite these concerns being reflected in the numerous comments submitted on behalf of industry trade groups, businesses, and State Agriculture Departments during the extended public comment period, no significant changes were made. As you know, the 2018 Farm Bill removed federal regulatory restrictions from industrial hemp production, manufacturing, and sales with the intent of developing a new agricultural commodity for United States farmers. The timing of implementation of the Interim Final Rules, especially during the COVID crisis, will create extreme disruption in this nascent industry. I ask that you delay the issuance of a final rule until January 2022 and allow states to continue to operate under the 2014 Farm Bill pilot program authority until then.

In New York, the industrial hemp industry has started to grow significantly, with new farms and businesses emerging and existing ones expanding operations. This has brought considerably better paying jobs and revenue to Upstate New York, making industrial hemp a critical new part of the state’s agricultural future. However, as industrial hemp farmers and businesses explore the full benefits of the 2018 Farm Bill, they have experienced serious difficulty integrating the Interim Final Rules into their operations. Particularly in the current COVID climate, I see many farmers and processors in New York struggle with incorporating these changes into the existing state Pilot Programs. In a time when farmers and producers struggle with economic uncertainty, the implementation of the Interim Final Rules will create costs without the support of offsetting revenues. USDA calculated compliance costs for reporting alone of $17,363.40 with testing adding approximately an additional $714.50 per sample (see 7 CFR Part 990, 58537 and 58545).

These costs do not just impact businesses across the United States but also state budgets that must alter their Pilot Programs to meet the demands of the Interim Final Rules. With bandwidth completely consumed by COVID concerns, the state regulatory agencies cannot focus on implementation of the Interim Final Rules. At this point, only 19 states have approved plans in place and enforcement efforts will deal a significant economic blow to the industry.

Lastly, I have concerns that the Interim Final Rules will potentially create public health issues in our current COVID environment. As we move into harvest season, farmers will need to operate with as much certainty as possible but timing and testing requirements will likely create bottlenecks that will push farmers to rush harvests. The potential for greater numbers of people working in facilities to meet the rush may create opportunities for COVID to spread among farm workers.

The Interim Final Rules provide a first step in developing regulations for the hemp industry. The critiques from the comment period will provide USDA with areas to consider revisions that further encourage economic opportunity for farmers and producers. However, COVID creates hurdles for states and producers to comply with the Interim Final Rules. Under the circumstances, the Interim Final Rules will harm the very businesses we hoped to help with this new agricultural commodity. We can easily remedy this situation by delaying implementation until January 2022 and allow states to continue under the 2014 Farm Bill until then. This will allow USDA to address some of the more pressing regulatory critiques while giving states and producers additional time to come into compliance.

Once again, I appreciate your efforts to help establish guidelines to develop a thriving American hemp industry. Thank you for your attention to this important matter and please let me know if I can be of any assistance.”

USDA Approves Hemp Plan For Maryland And One More Indian Tribe

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

The post Top Senate Democrat Pushes USDA To Delay Hemp Rules Until 2022 appeared first on Marijuana Moment.

Top Senate Democrat Pushes USDA To Delay Hemp Rules Until 2022