Feds Release Rules, Clarifications for US Hemp Production
Although most of the media attention went to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s rejection of requests to reschedule cannabis Aug. 12, rules were also issued that day to clarify the government’s position on hemp under the Agricultural Act of 2014. In the summary of “A Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp,” three US cabinet departments and two federal enforcement agencies offer their interpretations of how federal law applies to the budding industrial hemp industry.
The United States, whose founding fathers grew hemp and which once boasted a booming hemp industry, essentially ended most commercial production under the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. This destruction of an agricultural industry happened despite the fact that hemp, which by definition contains a THC level of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis, has and will never get anybody ‘high.’ Its industrial implications are staggering, though. The US imports $500 million worth of hemp each year that could be grown just as easily inside our borders. Let’s just say that, historically, taxing hemp out of existence one of the country’s least exceptional decisions.
That’s slowly changing. Under the Farm Bill, universities and schools can get permits to grow hemp for research, and some states, including Colorado, allow people and businesses to grow hemp for research.
Which is why this is an important step in hemp again becoming recognized as a major industrial and medical plant in the US. The departments of Agriculture, Justice, and Health and Human Services, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Food and Drug Administration published the rules in the Federal Record.
The rules are welcome news, says Zev Paiss, executive director of the National Hemp Association. They reiterate that federal law allows the interstate sale of hemp products made from US-grown plants under the Farm Bill, which allows farmers and businesses and their investors to breathe a little easier. It also notes that USDA programs available to other farmers and businesses, including loans, grants, certification programs and crop insurance, will be available to hemp farmers.
Other parts of the document are more confusing, Paiss says. Five major organizations, including Vote Hemp, the Hemp Industries Association, the Kentucky Hemp Industry Council, the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council and the National Hemp Association, asked a few questions in a letter addressed to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday.
Even though the Statement declares that it "does not establish any binding legal requirements," the organizations are asking for clarification on several issues that would help assure hemp farmers who have relied on Farm Bill provisions to invest in federally authorized research that they need not be concerned about federal interference in the future.
“What we received was a lot more than we were expecting. It simply clarifies their position,” Paiss says. “We believe they have changed the definition of hemp as it’s used in the Farm Bill. We’re seeing a new definition that hasn’t been used anywhere before. We believe they have misquoted how the Farm Bill is written. They’re flying a little bit loose around that.”
The letter outlines the groups’ hesitation about a paragraph that could be interpreted to redefine the term ‘industrial hemp,’ as well as whether the document suggests that hemp stalk, fiber, seed and oil – all already exempt from the Controlled Substances Act – cannot be sold in states without agriculture pilot programs if the hemp was grown in the US.
“It’s great to allow people to get loans and insurance, but some of these other pieces need some work,” says Paiss. “The DEA is in a tough position because a major part of their budget is to prohibit cannabis. If I could whisper in their ear, I would mention the heroin epidemic. ‘Please put more money into dealing with the opioid and heroin issue, where people are dying. I’m not suggest budget cuts, but shift resources to one that’s not a problem to one that is.’”
Allowing the US hemp industry to rise and thrive again could help in that endeavor.