USDA Extends Hemp Rule Comment Period

Hemp rule comment period - USDA
Image: Matteo Paganelli

The USA’s Department of Agriculture has extended the comment period for the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program.

Released in late October, the interim final rule comment period was to last for 60 days, but USDA has extended this to January 29, 2020 in order to allow stakeholders additional time to provide feedback.

And there’s plenty of feedback already. At the time of writing, more than 1,200 comments had been submitted by a wide range of interests – everyone from users of cannabidiol to hemp farmers.

A common gripe regarding the interim final rule relates to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Under the 2018 Farm Bill, industrial hemp is defined as Cannabis sativa L. with 0.3% or less THC on a dry-weight basis. However, the USDA interim rule specifies Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol levels:

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“must be tested using post-decarboxylation or other similarly reliable analytical methods where the total THC concentration level reported accounts for the conversion of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) into THC.”

THCA is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that converts to THC when heated. If the testing involves decarboxylation, this will potentially put many hemp crop samples above the 0.3% limit that otherwise wouldn’t be. While the final THC content won’t be high enough to be attractive for recreational use, the crop will need to be destroyed if it tests at above the THC limit.

Staying within the limit is a difficult business as is – and this testing requirement will make it even more so.

One commenter said the situation will result in farmers boosting prices on hemp CBD to cover potential expenses for crop destruction and/or see hemp growers harvesting earlier, which will also impact on cannabidiol yield.

Other commenters noted the 0.3% THC limit should be boosted to 1%. There is precedent for this outside the USA – for example, in Western Australia where it was announced last year the limit of below 0.35 per cent will be lifted to up to one per cent – giving WA hemp farmers a wider choice of varieties.

Yet another common theme has been the 15-day harvesting requirement after samples are collected for testing. Some farmers have said this isn’t long enough due to factors outside of their control, such as inclement weather. However, in the Interim Final Rule, the USDA says if producers delay harvest beyond 15 days, the plant will likely have a higher THC level at harvest than the sample being tested.

With still more than 6 weeks left before the end of the comment period, the USDA is going to have plenty of feedback to consider.