by Vince Chandler, NCIA’s Social Media Manager
On October 31, 2019, the USDA released its Final Interim Rule governing the domestic production of hemp within the United States. Going into effect immediately upon its issue, the interim rule regulates industrial hemp after the 2018 Farm Bill removed its Schedule I listing under the Controlled Substances Act. While the IFR is in effect, there is a public comment period happening right now, allowing for early input as the federal agency begins to “test drive” the program. Sunsetting after two years, the interim rules will inform permanent oversight and regulatory infrastructure after a full crop cycle has occurred.
National Cannabis Industry Association Director of Public Policy Andrew Kline formed a coalition of more than 100 leading hemp and CBD entrepreneurs, scientists, medical doctors, and FDA lawyers in May to provide comments and testimony to the FDA on their regulations and rulemaking for CBD. The committee produced 60 pages of formal comments to the FDA, as well as providing expert testimony. After the submission of the coalition’s comments, the NCIA Hemp Committee absorbed the effort to voice the cannabis industry’s position on federal regulation of low-THC cannabis.
On Wednesday, NCIA hosted a webinar with our Hemp Committee Chair Cindy Sovine and committee member Alex Buscher to discuss the cannabis industry’s official response to the USDA hemp rules. Concerns about definitions, the feasibility of harvest windows, and DEA oversight of testing laboratories all pose as potential hurdles in the program’s viability, and NCIA is committed to ensuring our members have all the resources they need to submit feedback to the USDA before the deadline.
It is important to note that, while the 2018 Farm Bill descheduled hemp with less than 0.3% THC, the federal agency has left it up to individual states to submit plans for regulations and oversight. Until a state has submitted their regulatory plan, and had it approved, the sale of hemp is not legal in that state. While states draft and submit their plans, NCIA is leading the quest for information on how federal rules will apply.
The administrative procedure for the USDA requires that they consider any comments put forth by the public, but do not have to adopt any of them. All indications are that they are open to influence and input from those, like National Cannabis Industry Association, with institutional knowledge on the matter.
Highlighted in the webinar as an action item deserving immediate attention and commentary is the USDA’s planned rule for “hot hemp.” The agricultural governing agency appears to have taken the position that they lack regulatory jurisdiction over cannabis plants that test above the 0.3% THC threshold, deferring instead to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
NCIA’s Hemp Committee recommends that, instead of handing oversight to the DEA, USDA should adopt particular procedures that will allow for the remediation of those hemp plants. This re-processing should render non-compliant plants compliant, thus allowing for their use rather than requiring the immediate mandatory disposal, per DEA regulations.
Remediation options could include:
- Removal of THC through processing
- Conversion of THC
- Diversion to fiber market
Interstate commerce, harvest scheduling, and DEA testing laboratory registration need to be addressed, along with specifying definitions for ambiguous terminology. These issues can be changed through public comment at the USDA rules level.
Requiring legislative procedure to change is the felony provision rules in the USDA Final Interim Rule. Currently, the Farm Bill’s statutory felony provision reads, “any person convicted of a felony relating to a controlled substance under State or Federal law, before, on, or after the date of enactment on this subtitle shall be ineligible…”
The USDA could have interpreted this provision broadly, blanketing the ban to apply to anyone working in any capacity in the industry. Instead, the USDA has limited this provision in their licensure by stating that it will apply only to “key participants.” While NCIA wishes to see felony provisions removed as barriers of entry from working in the legitimate cannabis industry, our committee recognizes this liberal interpretation of the provision as a best-case scenario, until the Farm Bill is up for renewal and specific language can be amended or abandoned.
Public commentary is open until December 30, 2019, and all NCIA Members are encouraged to submit their thoughts. For suggested language or guidance shaping your comment, we’ve made available our slide show from the webinar with samples of copy and more information on individual recommended steps. If you are interested in shaping NCIA policy recommendations for hemp, CBD, or many other cannabis sectors, inquire about joining our Policy Council.