On Thursday, the USDA said that the proposed rule for hemp would not be amended to increase the stipulated limit for THC. The department argued that only Congress could change the policy.
The department further said that it is willing to change some of the other rules, as suggested by the farmers and industry stakeholders. The officials also said that after the 2020 harvest, the department would be opening up the second comment period to gather more input before finalizing the interim final rules.
Legislators and industry stakeholders have made several appeals to the USDA to change its regulations on the amount of THC allowed in hemp. Hemp production was legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, and it defined hemp as the crop whose THC concentration is not more than 0.3% and a negligence threshold of 0.5%. Hemp farmers whose crop test positive for more than 0.5% for more than three times in a year would be prohibited from growing the crop.
Speaking with reporters on the issue of the THC limit increase, USDA officials said that the stipulation is written in the Farm Bill and therefore it is statutory, not regulatory. For that reason, it can only be resolved by Congress.
While on call with reporters, the acting administrator of USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service Bruce Summers said that the Farm Bill set the THC requirements, and any change to these requirements can only be done through legislative action.
Summers further said that changing the THC concentration from 0.3% to 1% would be a statutory change, and only Congress would have the powers to make such a required change.
Summers further acknowledged that THC levels could rise above 0.5% even when the farmers do everything to keep it in the legal range since environmental factors, such as drought, can lead to higher THC levels. Hemp with more than the stipulated THC concentration must be destroyed, and it is not elegible for coverage under federal insurance programs.
The stakeholders also suggested changing the THC testing method but the USDA said that it would not be changing the method of testing THC using post-decarboxylation.
The department said that before finalizing the rules, they would make several changes such as extending the THC testing period currently set as 15 days before harvesting since farmers complained that the timeframe could cause delays as it is too short.
Summers said that in the final rule, there is room for discretion. He also noted that they will review 4,600 comments and will still review any additional comments before drafting the final rule.
The department also said that they would make changes about the restrictive protocols regarding the parts of the plant that can be sampled for testing since industry stakeholders expressed their concerns about the same.
Summers also said that the USDA is working closely with laboratories across the nation to determine their testing capacity since there were several comments in which people complained that the stipulation that only DEA-registered labs should conduct the tests would cause delays and backlogs. He noted that there is a possibility of making changes to this regulation.
He also said that the rule concerning the disposal of crops that fail the test might be adjusted.
USDA has started approving state and tribal regulatory hemp plans while still reviewing comments and developing a final rule.
It remains to be seen what industry actors like HTC Extraction Systems (TSX.V: HTC) (OTCQB: HTPRF) make of the position of the USDA on the issues that hemp stakeholders pointed out as aspects that need to be revised as the final hemp rules are drafted.
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