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Hemp Regulations Will Be Issued Within Weeks, Top USDA Official Says

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A top U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official says that the department expects to release an interim final rule on hemp regulations within “the next couple of weeks.”

During a hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) told USDA Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky that there’s been a “big rise in interest” in hemp among farmers in her state since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized the crop and its derivatives.

“States are currently working their way through the rulemaking process, but they do need guidance,” she said.

The senator asked if Censky could provide a timeline for the release of federal hemp regulations.

“We would expect to be issuing the interim final rule here within the next couple of weeks,” he said. “We have been in the interagency clearance process now for over 90 days, working with some of our federal colleagues through the [White House Office of Management and Budget] process to get input for there.”

“I think we’re nearing—just about at the end of that process,” he said.

The Justice Department ’s Office of Legal Policy has also been involved in reviewing the proposed regulations, a USDA official said at an event in September.

The department previously indicated that it would release the regulations in August, but that timeline has shifted, with officials recently stating that they’d be issued this fall, prior to the 2020 planting season.

In his opening testimony, Censky discussed the progress USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has made on hemp.

He said that AMS “has been working aggressively to stand up the Hemp Production Program in advance of the 2020 planting season,” which has “involved soliciting stakeholder feedback, including, but not limited to, an open webinar listening session in March 2019.”

“Many voices were represented during this listening session and the insights offered during this and other stakeholder input were used by AMS to craft an interim final rule,” he said. “Over the last few months, USDA has been working with our Federal partners to ensure the Hemp Production Program does not conflict with existing programs and to ensure the burden on producers and other stakeholders is minimized.”

Two areas of discussion the official noted concern “opportunities for Tribes to participle in hemp production and the effects the regulation will have on the agricultural lending industry.”

“These conversations have been productive and provided an overall improvement to the design of the Hemp Production Program,” he said. “Based on the most recent discussions, many of the initial concerns have been addressed and it has been indicated the rule should be cleared for publication soon. We look forward to having this program available to interested States, Tribes, and producers.”

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Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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