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USDA Approves Hemp Plans For Six Additional States And Three Indian Tribes

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has signed off on hemp plans for six additional states and three Indian tribes this month, with a new batch of approvals coming on Friday.

Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota each had their regulatory proposals accepted within the past two weeks, as did the Comanche Nation, the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.

That raises the total number of approved plans to 69.

USDA has been signing off on hemp proposals on a rolling basis over the past year. Last month, it accepted plans from Utah and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians.

“USDA continues to receive and review hemp production plans from states and Indian tribes,” the agency said in two notices.

Illinois and Oklahoma were among a group of states that USDA had asked to revise and resubmit their initial proposals in August.

While the agency released an interim final rule for a domestic hemp production program last year, industry stakeholders and lawmakers have expressed concerns about certain policies it views as excessively restrictive.

USDA closed an extended public comment period on its proposed hemp regulations earlier this month. Its initial round saw more than 4,600 submissions, but it said last month that it was reopening the feedback period in response to intense pushback from stakeholders on its original proposal.

The federal Small Business Administration (SBA) said last month that the new 30-day comment window is too short and asked USDA to push it back, and it also issued a series of recommended changes to the interim final rule on hemp, which it says threaten to “stifle” the industry and benefit big firms over smaller companies.

All told, it appears that USDA is taking seriously the feedback it’s received and may be willing to make certain accommodations on these particular policies. The department’s rule for hemp is set to take effect on October 31, 2021.

In July, two senators representing Oregon sent a letter to Perdue, expressing concern that hemp testing requirements that were temporarily lifted will be reinstated in the agency’s final rule. They made a series of requests for policy changes.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote to Perdue in August, asking that USDA delay issuing final regulations for the crop until 2022 and allow states to continue operating under the 2014 Farm Bill hemp pilot program in the meantime.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) also called on USDA to delay the implementation of proposed hemp rules, citing concerns about certain restrictive policies the federal agency has put forward in the interim proposal.

The earlier pilot program was initially set to expire on October 31, but it was extended to September 2021 through a congressional continuing resolution that the president signed late last month.

The senators weren’t alone in requesting an extension, as state agriculture departments and a major hemp industry group made a similar request to both Congress and USDA in August.

Perdue has said on several occasions that DEA influenced certain rules, adding that the narcotics agency wasn’t pleased with the overall legalization of hemp.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, hemp industry associations pushed for farmers to be able to access to certain COVID-19 relief loans—a request that Congress granted in the most recent round of coronavirus legislation.

While USDA previously said that hemp farmers are specifically ineligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, that decision was reversed last month. While the department initially said it would not even reevaluate the crop’s eligibility based on new evidence, it removed that language shortly after Marijuana Moment reported on the exclusion.

Two members of Congress representing New York also wrote a letter to Perdue in June, asking that the agency extend access to that program to hemp farmers.

Hemp farmers approved to produce the crop do stand to benefit from other federal loan programs, however. The department released guidelines for processing loans for the industry in May.

Meanwhile, USDA announced last week that it is planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.

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