More than 4,600 individuals and entities had something to say about how the United States Department of Agriculture wants to regulate hemp production. After publishing its interim final rule on hemp in October, the USDA opened a window for feedback, which was then extended to midnight Wednesday.
Already this week, the association representing state departments of agriculture, NASDA, released a thorough letter asking the USDA for flexibility so that states can comply, as at least thirty will have to make modifications to align with the federal framework. (Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of the NASDA letter, and of the USDA interim final rule.)
But who else had something to say about how the hemp industry takes shape in the US? We read through the thousands of letters and pulled out some particularly noteworthy ones, from universities to tribal nations to an airline trade group to a federal contractor.
Their concerns tended to overlap: whether interstate transport should happen before or after the crop is tested for its THC levels (which should be .3% or under); whether the .5% THC “negligence threshold” is too low; how to prevent states from interfering with transport (spoiler: the airline group is looking forward to hemp transport); consistency in lab testing; and a number of other issues.
Here are some of the entities that stood out, and some takeaways from their letters:
Science and research
Our takeaway: There is clear disagreement regarding the requirement that testing labs hold DEA registration. On one hand, the American National Standards Institute says there are a number of issues with this approach, from raising “the cost of compliance for producers” to the fact that it “would not allow laboratories currently engaged in cannabis and hemp testing to participate.” Battelle, on the other hand, “recommends that USDA maintain the DEA Schedule I requirement for laboratories testing hemp flower for THC content.”
Our takeaway: The concerns of each entity are somewhat different, but not in opposition. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance is focused on what happens when you have “law enforcement interacting with hemp during transportation to ensure a load’s validity and safety,” and they call for things like sealed hemp loads and “specific packaging and labeling requirements.” The airline group recommends that the USDA “adopt rules that prohibit states from interfering with the interstate transportation of hemp that is lawfully produced under the 2018 Farm Bill, as well as improve the hemp licensing framework to facilitate interstate hemp transportation.”
Our takeaway: while the tribal nations lay out a number of issues, top of mind is sovereignty, and ensuring the language is clear in safeguarding that. The Seneca Nation reiterates that the “United States will never claim or disturb the rights of the Seneca Nation and its members, including our right to the ‘free use and enjoyment’ of our lands.” And goes on to write that they are establishing a hemp program “with our sovereignty in mind,” adding, “We are a Nation with a storied agricultural background that spans hundreds of years, we have implemented our own Agriculture Department, and we are now striving to diversify our offerings.”
Noteworthy takeaways: these two entities had different focus; for example, the UC system put in bold at the very top “UC respectfully requests that USDA acknowledge the fact that requirements for commercial hemp cultivation do not apply to universities cultivating hemp for research purposes” while Cornell wrote “we are concerned that many of the provisions are overly restrictive for an agricultural crop, the regulatory testing and disposal is too costly, and will hinder the development of a viable industrial hemp industry.”
Lawmakers (and other officials)
Our takeaway: The concerns of lawmakers are varied, but not dissimilar to those of ag regulators. For example, the Indiana lawmakers noted they are “particularly concerned with the negligence threshold,” which was a focus of the NASDA letter. Same goes for the Wisconsin lawmakers, who focused on how restrictive the rules are, which NASDA flagged when it called for flexibility from the USDA. The Wisconsin lawmakers wrote “Unfortunately, our enthusiasm was dampened when the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued its interim rule on hemp production. This rule, which we hoped would clarify the process for establishing a state-run program, is in our view overly prescriptive. It leaves very little leeway for Wisconsin to maximize the potential of the program, and establishes a framework that could prove deleterious for Wisconsin hemp farmers — many of whom are using hemp to diversify their crop portfolios as a reaction to low commodity prices that have put them in difficult place financially.”
Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (Oregon)
Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (Virginia)
And, of course, agriculture
Noteworthy takeaway: best summed up in our coverage of NASDA’s letter, linked above.
Editor’s note: this story was updated with the number of comments received, from more than 3,500 to more than 4,600.