Days after U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules for hemp took effect, a GOP senator reintroduced a bill that would triple the concentration of THC that the crop could legally contain while addressing multiple other concerns the industry has expressed about the federal regulations.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) filed the legislation, titled the Hemp Economic Mobilization Plan (HEMP) Act. It’s similar to a measure he sponsored at the end of the last congressional session that did not see action.
Hemp and its derivatives were legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, and industry stakeholders have cheered USDA for quickly developing rules for the market. But they still have several reservations about provisions viewed as unnecessarily restrictive, including some addressed in Paul’s bill.
Arguably the most common complaint that lawmakers have heard from hemp businesses is that the crop is federally defined as containing no more than 0.3 percent THC. They say that’s too low, and so the bill, filed on Thursday, would increase that threshold to one percent.
“For years, I’ve led the fight in Washington to restore one of Kentucky’s most historically vital crops by legalizing industrial hemp,” Paul said in a press release. “We achieved a hard-won victory, but there is still work to do to prevent the federal government from weighing down our farmers with unnecessary bureaucratic micromanaging. My legislation will help this growing industry reach its full economic potential, and I am proud the bill has strong support all the way from local Kentucky farmers and activists to national groups.”
It would also address potential problems with testing requirements under USDA’s proposed regulations. The agency said hemp processors would get a 15-day window to test the crop’s flower to ensure that the THC concentration is within the allowed limits. But testing flower can be onerous and farmers have said it would stretch their resources thin, not to mention that the plant’s THC is significantly impacted by external factors.
To fix that issue, the senator is pushing for final hemp products themselves to be tested, rather than the initial flower from the plant.
“The THC content of hemp plants is significantly impacted by environmental factors, which farmers cannot control,” says a summary of the bill from Paul’s office. “Alternatively, hemp processors have greater control over the THC content in their products. Providing a statutory fix to this problem, by testing the final hemp-derived product rather than the hemp flower or plant itself, would ease the burden on farmers.”
The legislation also sets documentation requirements for people transporting hemp shipments, intended to prevent further instances of law enforcement seizing the legal crop, believing it to be illicit marijuana. The new version of the bill for the current Congress expands the type of documentation that people could possess to demonstrate product legality. Whereas the prior measure would have required them to carry a certificate from a lab demonstrating that the product contains no more than one percent THC, they could now instead choose to simply bring a copy of the hemp producer’s license.
Finally, the bill would create a definition for the margin of error when it comes to THC testing. While the current interim final rule for hemp gives the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) discretion in determining that margin, Paul is proposing “using 0.075 percent as the standard MU, giving farmers and processors the certainty they have requested,” according to the summary.
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“Senator Rand Paul’s legislation is very timely with the state departments of agriculture’s passing policy that would re-define hemp at one percent,” Patrick Atagi, chairman of the National Industrial Hemp Council, said. “We also are thankful for the Senator’s recognition of the importance of defining hemp in transit. We appreciate his willingness to engage with us and listen to our industry. We believe the HEMP Act is important for consumers and the consumer’s right to know and are proud to support Senator Paul’s efforts. If passed, the HEMP Act will help with the overall economy and providing jobs to Americans.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is widely considered an ally of the hemp industry, gave final approval to the federal rule laying out regulations for the hemp industry at the beginning of the month, despite outstanding concerns from advocates about certain provisions.
Stakeholders have said they plan to work with USDA to make further revisions to the regulations as the market evolves. They said both legislative and administrative reform is on the table.
The federal Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy said in January that it is “pleased with some of the changes that [USDA] has made to the rule, as they offer more certainty and are less burdensome to small farmers,” but “some concerns remained unaddressed in the final rule.”
Also that month, Biden administration USDA representatives held their first meeting with hemp industry stakeholders to learn about the market’s needs.
Even as USDA has crafted its rules and built up advisory committees that involve hemp business representatives, it has spent past months reviewing and approving numerous state and tribal regulatory proposals—most recently for Rhode Island.
Meanwhile, the presidential transition has impacted pending rules and policies from the former Trump administration—including those concerning CBD.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in January withdrew draft guidance on CBD enforcement that had been submitted for review to the White House under Trump last year. There are few details about what the proposal included, but it was expected to give the industry a better understanding of the federal perspective when it comes to marketing cannabis products.
Read the full text of the new Senate hemp bill below:
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.