Congressional delegations from Virginia and Maine sent letters to the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) this week, urging the agency to make certain changes to its proposed hemp regulations based on feedback from stakeholders.
Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote that the hemp industry has boomed in Virginia since the crop was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill—but they remain concerned that provisions of USDA’s interim final rule will “unduly burden our growers.”
The senators encouraged USDA to make adopt certain changes as it prepares to finalize the regulations, which will come after a public comment period that was extended this week from the end of December to January 29, 2020. For example, they implored the department to provide a longer hemp testing window, allow laboratories that aren’t registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration to test the crop and raise the allowable THC limit.
In a separate letter led by Rep. Denver Riggleman (D-VA), and signed by the rest of Virginia’s U.S. House delegation, USDA received an almost identical list of recommended changes.
“Virginia and #VA05 are uniquely positioned to lead in the arena of hemp production and I am grateful to the entire Virginia delegation for signing this letter regarding U.S. Domestic Hemp Production. Industrial hemp is a game-changer for Southside.” https://t.co/gsLZLiRBMY pic.twitter.com/yabbBvvcuM
— Congressman Denver Riggleman (@RepRiggleman) December 16, 2019
“We appreciate your commitment to the nation’s farmers and agribusinesses, as well as your commitment to ensuring that the hemp industry grows in a safe fashion,” the House members wrote. “At a time when farmers are experiencing low commodity prices, extreme weather, and volatile market fluctuations, providing clear and reasonable regulatory guidance to producers has become particularly important.”
“We fear that implementing the current rule would result in increased costs for growers and would prohibit many farmers from entering the market, especially small operations,” they wrote.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) also reached out to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue this week to express concerns about the draft regulations for hemp, imploring the agency to heed recommendations submitted by their state’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry earlier this month.
Joined by Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Jared Golden (D-ME), the senators wrote that “[h]emp is grown in every county in Maine, totaling over 2,000 acres of hemp planted in 2019.”
“During these difficult economic times for farmers, hemp provides an opportunity to diversify farmers’ income and boost rural economies,” they said.
A press release about the letter also emphasized the senators’ work to secure clarity for hemp businesses when it comes to access to financial services.
“Despite the 2018 Farm Bill’s legalization of hemp, the lack of clarity in federal banking regulations has created major barriers for hemp businesses,” the notice states, adding that House-passed legislation called the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act would help resolve the issue.
Numerous stakeholders have echoed these points since the interim rule was released. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) made similar recommendations in a letter sent to USDA last month.