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USDA Approves Hemp Regulatory Plans From Rhode Island And Another Indian Tribe

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved hemp regulatory proposals from one additional state and one tribe.

Rhode Island and the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians are the latest to have their plans accepted, raising the total number of federally approved hemp proposals to 72.

Since the crop and its derivatives were legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, USDA has been reviewing and accepting plans to regulate hemp on a rolling basis. In October, it signed off on bids from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota, for example.

“USDA continues to receive and review hemp production plans from states and Indian tribes,” it said in its latest notice, published last week.

While the agency released an interim final rule for a domestic hemp production program in 2019, 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 in October. Its initial round saw more than 4,600 submissions, but it said in September that it was reopening the feedback period in response to intense pushback from stakeholders on its original proposal.

All told, it appears that the agency 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 Agriculture Secretary Sonny 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.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), expected to soon be the Senate’s majority leader, 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.

The earlier pilot program was initially set to expire on October 31, but Congress extended it to September 2021 and then again until next year.

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. To that end, DEA  released its proposed rules for hemp and CBD in August—but while the agency claimed the regulations would simply put its procedures into compliance with federal law, some industry players suspect that they’re really setting the stage to crack down on the newly legal market.

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.

In November, USDA announced that it was expanding and improving a crop insurance program for hemp farmers.

While USDA previously said that hemp farmers are specifically ineligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, that decision was reversed in September. 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.

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Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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