The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved hemp regulatory plans for Utah and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians on Friday.
The total number of federally approved hemp plans across states, territories and tribes now stands at 60.
USDA has been signing off on hemp proposals on a rolling basis over the past year. Earlier this month, it accepted plans from Maine, Missouri and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians.
“USDA continues to receive and review hemp production plans from states and Indian tribes,” the agency said in its latest notice.
Recently, six states that submitted hemp regulatory plans to USDA were asked to make revisions and resubmit before they’re approved.
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 announced in February that it would temporarily lift two provisions that the industry viewed as problematic. Those policies primarily concern testing and disposal requirements. The department declined to revise the THC limit, however, arguing that it’s a statutory matter that can’t be dealt with administratively.
Last week, the agency announced that it is reopening a public comment period on hemp regulations following months of intense pushback on its original proposal.
In July, two senators representing Oregon sent a letter to the head of USDA, expressing concern that testing requirements that were temporarily lifted will be reinstated in the agency’s final rule. They made a series of requests for policy changes.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) 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.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) last month wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, similarly asking that USDA delay issuing final regulations for the crop until 2022 and allowing states to continue operating under the 2014 Farm Bill hemp pilot program in the meantime.
As it stands, the earlier pilot program is set to expire on October 31. The senators aren’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 this month.
Perdue has said on several occasions that the Drug Enforcement Administration 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.
However, USDA has previously said that hemp farmers are specifically ineligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. While the department initially said it would not 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 recently released guidelines for processing loans for the industry.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.