High anx­i­ety: Pro­posed hemp rules worry farms

Orlando Sentinel - - WALL STREET REPORT - 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. “There’s just a lot of con­fu­sion, and peo­ple are just look­ing for lead­er­ship.”

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. They might be com­ing from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, but ev­ery state has raised con­cerns,” 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.

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