Pro­posed hemp rules wor­ry­ing the in­dus­try

Antelope Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE - By GIL­LIAN FLACCUS

PORT­LAND, Ore. — Hemp grow­ers and en­trepreneur­s who were joy­ous a year ago af­ter U.S. law­mak­ers re­clas­si­fied the plant as a le­gal agri­cul­tural crop now are wor­ried their busi­nesses could be crip­pled if fed­eral pol­i­cy­mak­ers move ahead with draft reg­u­la­tions.

Li­censes for hemp cul­ti­va­tion topped a half-mil­lion acres last year, more than 450% above 2018 lev­els, so there’s in­tense in­ter­est in the rules the U.S. gov­ern­ment is cre­at­ing. Crit­i­cal com­ments on the draft have poured in from hemp farm­ers, pro­ces­sors, re­tail­ers and state gov­ern­ments.

Grow­ers are con­cerned the gov­ern­ment wants to use a heavy hand that could re­sult in many crops fail­ing re­quired tests and be­ing de­stroyed. The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, the agency writ­ing the rules, es­ti­mates 20% of hemp lots would fail un­der the pro­posed reg­u­la­tions.

“Their busi­ness is to sup­port farm­ers — and not pun­ish farm­ers — and the rules as they’re writ­ten right now pun­ish farm­ers,” said Dove Old­ham, who last year grew an acre of hemp on her fam­ily farm in Grants Pass.

The USDA did not re­spond to the crit­i­cism but has taken the un­usual step of ex­tend­ing the pub­lic com­ment pe­riod by a month, un­til Jan. 29. The agency told The As­so­ci­ated Press it will an­a­lyze in­for­ma­tion from this year’s grow­ing sea­son be­fore re­leas­ing its fi­nal rules, which would take ef­fect in 2021.

Agri­cul­tural of­fi­cials in states that run pi­lot hemp cul­ti­va­tion pro­grams un­der an ear­lier fed­eral pro­vi­sion are weigh­ing in with for­mal letters to the USDA.

“There are 46 states where hemp is le­gal, and I’m go­ing to say that ev­ery sin­gle state has raised con­cerns to us about some­thing within the rule,” said Aline DeLu­cia, di­rec­tor of pub­lic pol­icy for the Na­tional Associatio­n of State De­part­ments of Agri­cul­ture.

Most of the anx­i­ety in­volves how the fed­eral gov­ern­ment plans to test for THC, the high-in­duc­ing compound found in mar­i­juana and hemp, both cannabis plants. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment and most states con­sider plants with tiny amounts — 0.3% or less — to be hemp. Any­thing above that is mar­i­juana and il­le­gal un­der fed­eral law.

Yet an­other cannabis compound has fu­eled the ex­plo­sion in hemp cul­ti­va­tion. Cannabid­iol, or CBD, is mar­keted as a health and well­ness aid and in­fused in ev­ery­thing from food and drinks to lo­tions, tooth­paste and pet treats.

Many have cred­ited CBD with help­ing ease pain, in­crease sleep and re­duce anx­i­ety. But sci­en­tists cau­tion not enough is known about its health ef­fects, and the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion last year tar­geted nearly two dozen com­pa­nies for mak­ing CBD health claims.

Still, the CBD mar­ket is in­creas­ing at a triple-digit rate and could have $20 bil­lion in sales by 2024, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study by BDS An­a­lyt­ics, a mar­ket­ing anal­y­sis firm that tracks cannabis in­dus­try trends.

About 80% of the 18,000 farm­ers li­censed for hemp cul­ti­va­tion are in the CBD mar­ket, said Eric Steen­stra, pres­i­dent of the ad­vo­cacy group Vote Hemp. The re­main­ing 20% grow hemp for its fiber, used in ev­ery­thing from fab­ric to con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als, or its grain, which is added to health foods.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this April 24, 2018, file photo, a hemp plant is pol­li­nated at the Unique Botan­i­cals fa­cil­ity in Spring­field, Ore.

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