SALEM, Ohio — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s hemp program rules include more details on sampling and testing crops, and on how state plans fit in with the federal plan. States are reviewing the rules and preparing to submit plans that meet federal standards.
The regulations, published Oct. 31, are an interim rule, which will be effective for two years before it is replaced with a final rule. The public comment period is open for 60 days, until Dec. 30. The final rule will take public comments and information learned from the first two years into consideration.
Several states, including Pennsylvania, submitted state plans to the USDA for 2019. These plans allowed these states to have a commercial growing program for hemp this year, before USDA regulations were published.
For two years, Pennsylvania had an industrial hemp research pilot program under the 2014 farm bill. This year was its first year with a commercial growing program.
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture press secretary Shannon Powers said the federal government did not have many clear guidelines for states at the beginning of the year. Now, as states prepare for the 2020 growing season, there are more rules about what should be included in state plans.
Powers said the department is reviewing the federal rules and working on another state plan to address them. It also plans to respond to the USDA with comments once it has finished reviewing the regulations.
Ohio did not have a program in 2019, but did post proposed rules for comment during October. The public comment period closed Oct. 30.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture said it is now reviewing the USDA’s interim rules and comparing them to Ohio’s proposed hemp cultivation and processing rules to make sure they meet the federal standards.
Residents in states that do not submit plans for hemp production can start applying to produce hemp under the USDA’s program after Nov. 30.
In addition to the regulations on hemp licenses, the USDA published rules for sampling and testing hemp crops for THC. THC is the intoxicating element in marijuana. THC levels in hemp are far too low to produce a high, but hemp crops that test hot with levels over 0.3% are legally considered marijuana and must be destroyed.
The testing must be done in USDA-approved labs. Samples for testing should be taken within 15 days before harvest.
The regulations say farmers who grow hemp that tests over 0.3%, but under 0.5%, will not be considered negligent. Those over that will have committed a negligent violation and will have a corrective action plan established.
Farmers who commit negligent violations three times in five years will be ineligible to grow hemp for five years. Still, even negligent violations are not subject to criminal enforcement action.
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