USDA Hemp Testing Rules Invalidate Washington’s Preferred Protocol

For months after Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, players in the CBD hemp industry and interested parties pressured the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to write rules for the hemp industry. The industry was, and is still undergoing unprecedented growth, mostly because of cannabidiol’s (CBD) popularity as an alternative medicine, and the sector’s lack of regulation was making it hard for farmers and CBD processors to operate. In October, the USDA published its interim rule on hemp, but it seems the regulations might not be the saving grace some thought they would be.

Some states that had preexisting hemp programs in place, such as Washington, will be forced to revise their policies to align with the USDA’s new rules. The 2018 Farm Bill made a legal distinction between hemp and marijuana, classifying any hemp containing more than 0.3% THC as marijuana. The state of Washington has a testing protocol to test for THC levels, but the new protocol outlined by the USDA makes Washington’s policy on testing obsolete.

Jessica Allenton, Assistant Director for the Commodity Inspection Division, says that the Washington Department of Agriculture will adapt to whatever the USDA settles on. “We’re working on a plan that conforms with the USDA’s requirements,” she says. According to the Farm Bill, any hemp with more than 0.3 THC, dubbed ‘hot hemp’ will be destroyed. Washington’s policy allowed for higher levels of THC, and this would have increased the amount of hemp produced by the state. The new rules, however, demand a smaller margin of error, and according to Bonny Jo Peterson, Executive Director of Industrial Hemp Association of Washington, this will lead to more plants failing the THC test.

“That’ll put farmers in jeopardy,” she says, adding that it will cause a lot of farmers not to grow hemp. Under Washington state policy, THC levels would be tested as a measure of the entire plant, but the USDA plans to test just the flowering part. The USDA is also proposing for testing to be as close to harvest as possible. THC concentrations increase as the plant grows, and to avoid this, farmers will flock to have their crop tested as soon as possible. Currently, there aren’t enough inspectors to check all that crop in the limited amount of time given. According to Allenton, the state may need to contract more labs and inspectors.

Washington farmer Julian Sibley says that his farm still plans to plant hemp even if the USDA sticks with the restrictive procedures it has proposed. “Growers will just have to be careful and monitor their plants and harvest before THC levels are too high.”

It would be enlightening to hear what established hemp companies like MCTC Holdings Inc. (OTC: MCTC) and The Green Organic Dutchman Holdings Ltd. (TSX: TGOD) (OTCQX: TGODF) would suggest to farmers who are desirous of harvesting hemp having peak levels of CBD without exceeding the legal federal THC limit.

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