As the deadline to begin operating under the 2018 Farm Bill rapidly approaches, hemp growers following their state pilot programs may soon be getting the relief they’ve been asking for.
The U.S. House of Representatives has introduced a bill (H.R. 8319) with a provision that would allow hemp growers to continue operating under their pilot programs through September of 2021, extending the interim period by nearly a year.
The current deadline for states to end their hemp pilot programs established by the 2014 Farm Bill and begin operating under the 2018 Farm Bill is Oct. 31 of this year.
The proposed extension of hemp pilot programs answers the call of industry leaders and lawmakers alike to give hemp growers more time to adjust to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) interim final rule (IFR) on hemp, which aligns with regulations under the 2018 Farm Bill and is generally seen as a more stringent set of rules.
Nearly two dozen states chose to operate under their pilot programs for the 2020 growing season, according to the U.S. Hemp Roundtable.
A provision to extend the pilot program was included in a recent House Agriculture Appropriations bill, but Jonathan Miller, general counsel for U.S. Hemp Roundtable, said as time went on, it became clearer that the bill would likely not pass by Congress’ Sept. 30 deadline.
“That’s when we changed tactics and sought this continuing resolution,” Miller tells Hemp Grower. (The continuing resolution’s main purpose is to extend last year’s budget temporarily as Congress works to come to an agreement on new appropriations.)
Miller says the bill needs to be voted on before Sept. 30, but lawmakers are looking to vote on it later this week. “I’m confident that this should sail through,” Miller says. “From all of my discussions on [Capitol] Hill, it looks very promising.”
A Push for An Extension
Individuals, organizations and even state officials have been advocating vigilantly for an extension of hemp pilot programs throughout the year.
Patrick Atagi, the board chairman of the National Industrial Hemp Council; Barbara P. Glenn, Ph.D., the CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture; and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) have all been outspoken about the need to extend pilot programs, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many states will be unable to meet the forthcoming deadline of October 31, 2020,” Atagi and Glenn wrote in the letter to members of Congress back in August. “These states have cited that due to the unprecedented national COVID-19 pandemic, state regulators have been unable to work with their state legislatures to acquire necessary statutory amendments.”
Richard Ball, commissioner of agriculture for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, has even come forward to say the state of New York will not be developing its own hemp plan unless pilot programs are extended until 2021, citing qualms with “substantial elements” of the IFR’s requirements.
Many in the industry share Ball’s view that the IFR contains several key facets that need revision. Among those include:
the requirement that hemp needs to be tested by a lab registered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
sampling methods, which require collecting a large number of plants in a short time period.
the low permitted total tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) threshold of 0.3%.
Miller says extension of the pilot programs would ideally give the USDA more time and flexibility to work out those concerns by the time it administers its final rule on hemp by the end of next year.
“The IFR has caused tremendous concern in the industry. Particularly, we’re concerned with the DEA’s influence over the process,” Miller says. “We really want to get the DEA out of the business of regulating hemp.”
Earlier this month, the USDA reopened its comment period on the IFR. Since its reopening, it has received more than 600 comments (in addition to the more than 4,500 it received during its first comment period). The current comment period closes Oct. 8.