The U.S. Department of Agriculture is reopening the public comment period on the proposed federal hemp guidelines in hopes of hearing how things went for operators attempting to adapt to the standards before they’re finalized.
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service put the word out late last week that they’re reopening the comment period. Before the announcement, they’d already received roughly 4,600 pieces of input regarding what the nation’s final hemp rules should look like. Regardless of all that, there are still some things they want stakeholders to weigh in on and they gave them an extra month to do it.
“These comments represent the perspectives of various organizations and individuals within the stakeholder community and provided AMS additional context for decision making,” the announcement read. “AMS is reopening the public comment period for the [interim final rule] to encourage additional input on several topics identified by commenters during the initial ninety-day comment period. The reopening of the public comment period allows stakeholders to provide AMS with further insight gained from the 2020 hemp growing season.”
So what were the subjects of the comments that raised the need for more input?
The first two things the feds want to hear more about are around-lab testing. Currently, the hemp guidelines don’t include a measurement of uncertainty for what happens to the hemp before it’s tested. People suggested an additional measurement of uncertainty to account for the variables that can happen during cutting, bagging, sealing, transporting, handling and other pre-laboratory activities.
But the feds note any new “numerical valuations or calculation formulas submitted with comments should clearly demonstrate how sampling uncertainty might be incorporated into the current THC tolerance threshold established by the interim final rule.” So whatever the final rule looks like, the THC level number being as accurate as possible is going to take priority.
The other thing about the labs they want folks to give their take on is the computations being used in determining and reporting THC on a dry weight basis from liquid chromatography. Part of the number when determining the THC levels is a math equation based around converting the THCA content.
According to feedback from commenters, the current “formula is inaccurate since it is based on a 100 percent conversion factor, which is nearly impossible to achieve in a laboratory setting.” The commenters’ claims are based around the idea that THCA is never converted to Δ9-THC without loss or degradation.
Plant Disposal and Negligence
Like many other agricultural sectors, things don’t always go smoothly for hemp farms. So what happens to any plants that have too much THC? Currently, the guidelines require non-compliant cannabis plants to be disposed of through a DEA-registered reverse-distributor or other law enforcement personnel.
A lot of people expressed concern about this part of the plan. So in February, guidance relaxing the requirements for law enforcement-supervised disposal was issued. It also included some examples of how to destroy plants at the farm.
But what if you’re a rebel and your hemp was just too strong?
What does negligence really look like when you’re growing something with basically no drugs in it at scale while the more psychoactive sibling of your product gets more legally available all the time? The legal limit for hemp is 0.3% THC, but if you grow something up to 0.5% by accident you won’t get in trouble. Commenters so far want that bumped to 1%.
We pray nobody ever sees any legal problems over their permitted crop, but imagine getting busted for 2% hemp. Tragic.
While The Farm Bill and current version of the rules state “no State or Indian Tribe may prohibit the transportation or shipment of legally produced hemp across State or Tribal boundaries,” the feds want to know what other infrastructure people believe is needed to facilitate interstate commerce. “Particularly the potential need for national, comprehensive, documentation requirements,” the announcement said.
One of the aspects of interstate commerce being worked on is just how much documentation will these legal hemp shipments be required to have. What is the line in the sand between supply chain control and overkill?
Actual Farming Stuff
The biggest aspect of the farming process the feds are requesting more input in is the 15-day harvest window. Right now an approved federal, state or local law enforcement agency or other USDA-designated person collects samples from plants up to 15 days before harvest to detect THC concentration.
You have to harvest your plants within 15 days of this test or you’re screwed. The idea there is the plants won’t have too much time to develop more THC that would put them over the legal limit while being marked as totally legit hemp. Part of the idea for the commenters here is that if you’re growing real pot two weeks out you’re already blowing past the federal hemp limit. In light of that, they recommended the harvest window be increased to 30 days and the feds want to know if others agree.
Another more hands-on matter that feedback was requested on was nurseries. These facilities include seedling, seed, clone, microgreen and other types of operations that do not grow hemp plants for harvesting mature hemp flowers, and are therefore unable to meet the sampling and testing requirements as described,” the announcement read.
Given the unique circumstances, the announcement said one option being weighed is specific regulatory provisions that require licensing but not the same lab testing scrutiny faced by traditional hemp growers that distribute the results of a completely mature product.
There are no provisions to regulate the hemp breeding and research programs taking place across the country. The announcement notes the USDA is aware a lot of these programs are being funded by states and plans on figuring it out.
“These types of facilities are engaged in a wide range of research efforts to develop new hemp cultivars. USDA encourages this type of research and wants to establish a regulatory framework for researchers that is flexible and not burdensome,” the announcement said.
Who is doing the testing, and how?
The final sections, besides labs registering with the DEA, are about the who, where and when of testing. This is opposed to the hardware and weed math stuff covered first. What is going to be the methodology? And who is going to do it? Are sampling agents going to take a sample of just the matured bud to test or the whole plant?
One move under consideration to simplify things is the establishment of a specific number of plants to be sampled from every lot. This sample number of plants would be regardless of the lot size.
You can expect the feds to get plenty of feedback before the comment window closes again on October 8th.