The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is giving prospective hemp farmers a status update on the Trump administration’s efforts to regulate the newly legal crop. The plans include a public listening session to be held next month.
While the 2018 Farm Bill federally legalized hemp, USDA has to develop a regulatory process and approve individual state plans before farmers can cultivate it under the legislation’s provisions.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said during a congressional hearing on Wednesday that the department is working to create that regulatory framework in time for the 2020 growing season.
“We’re proceeding very judiciously obviously because of the uniqueness of the crop hemp and its relationship to other crops that we’re not encouraging. It’s complex,” he told the House Agriculture Committee.
Perdue also urged caution about the widespread public excitement on hemp’s potential economic impact.
“We would love to think that the potential for hemp agriculture is as great as the anticipation is, but that remains to be seen,” he said during the hearing. “We want to proceed slowly to make sure we don’t have another situation where our productive farmers overcompensate and blow out a market before it can get started.”
USDA must develop regulatory plans for certification, land use, testing and disposal of hemp. Only once those plans are in place, the department says, will it begin reviewing state regulatory proposals that will allow farmers to legally grow the crop.
Advocates say they would prefer the administration move more quickly.
“Secretary Perdue has determined that USDA will not review state or tribal plans until after federal regulations are finalized,” Vote Hemp said in an email to supporters. “Perdue’s decision is disappointing but his commitment to completing the process in time for the 2020 growing season is positive news. USDA believes they need to go through this process first in order to properly regulate hemp due to the unique regulatory requirements.”
Until then, however, some farmers can still cultivate hemp under limited research program provisions of the less expansive 2014 version of the Farm Bill.
USDA also announced on Wednesday that it would be holding a public listening session on March 13 to hear from stakeholders about hemp regulation.
“State or Indian tribal nations do not need to submit plans for approval until regulations are in place; however, should a state submit a plan, USDA will hold that submission until regulations have been promulgated,” USDA said in the update on its website. “As required by law, USDA is committed to completing its review of plans within 60 days once regulations are effective.”
During a separate Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on Thursday, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) told Perdue that he looked forward to working with the secretary on the implementation of hemp regulations.
Heading into the Senate Ag Hearing to question @SecretarySonny on implementing the #FarmBill. From legalizing #hemp to funding drought resilience, we have our work cut out for us. We must ensure the Trump administration stands ready to help Colorado implement the bill.
— Michael Bennet (@SenatorBennet) February 28, 2019
On a related note, the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Wednesday that his agency would be holding a listening session “sometime in April” to discuss regulatory plans for hemp-derived CBD products. FDA is considering alternative pathways to allow for the inclusion of cannabis and cannabis derivatives in food and dietary supplements, and also to permit the marketing and interstate commerce of such products.