State agricultural regulators on Wednesday received several significant updates on hemp and CBD from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, an organization comprised of state departments of agriculture commissioners, convened for their Winter Policy Conference this week. On Wednesday, they heard from senior leadership from the key agencies that regulate hemp on a federal level.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach, and USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney spoke to NASDA members on Wednesday about various priorities and issues “important to the agriculture and food industry.”
And one of those priorities high on NASDA’s list is hemp. In October 2019, nearly one year after the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law, legalizing hemp, the USDA released its long-awaited interim final rule. These rules, in short, will define the shape of the US hemp industry.
Cannabis Wire has closely covered the USDA interim final rule, the hemp industry’s reaction, and NASDA’s subsequent request for flexibility for states. One of those areas was around THC testing, as hemp must legally be .3% THC or less, and the requirement that hemp sampling labs be DEA approved. This is “a significantly higher hurdle,” Bryan Hurlburt, the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, told Cannabis Wire. “It’s actually quite difficult to come by.”
USDA Undersecretary Ibach told attendees that because of an “agreement,” the USDA is “going to be able to provide some relief from the laboratory certification process for this crop year.” The Drug Enforcement Administration will still expect states to work with their laboratories to “try to achieve certification” during the 2021 crop cycle,” he said, adding, “but for the 2020 crop year, they’re not going to require all those labs to go through their DEA certification.”
Ibach also talked about hot hemp, or hemp that tests positive for too much THC. Previously, NASDA asked for flexibility on this topic. (Read Cannabis Wire coverage here.)
“We’re going to provide more options and greater flexibility for states that are working with producers, that need to provide more options for disposal or more commonly accepted ways to destroy that crop on the farm,” Ibach said.
Ibach said, “There were a lot of comments about sampling,” adding, “I’m open to that discussion as well, to gain greater understanding.”
Hahn, sworn in as FDA commissioner in December, asked the attendees how many people went through Reagan National Airport, and came upon a store that has a “huge stand for CBD products.”
“So, we know one thing from the American people: they’re using CBD products,” Hahn said. Hahn went on to tell a story about a patient who texted him to say that they were using CBD oil as part of a broader cancer treatment.
“We’re not going to be able to say ‘you can’t use these products,’” Hahn said. “Even if we did, it’s a fool’s game to even try to approach that. But what do we need to do? We need to fill the information gaps. We need to understand what it helps with, because we have some evidence on the drug side that it may be beneficial.”
Hahn then asked, referencing the proliferation of popular non-pharma CBD products, which are not yet FDA-approved, “What about on the other side of the fence? Where could it be of benefit? FDA has spent a lot of time looking at this. We are trying to formulate what our stance is going to be on this. It’s an important time for FDA to really communicate with the American people about what we think is a risk, versus what we’d like to study further and look at. Because I think we have to be open to the fact that there might be some value to these products. And certainly Americans think that that’s the case.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Perdue called hemp an “unusual crop,” and said he hadn’t known a similar crop in his lifetime that has “seen the infatuation that hemp has seen across the country. Literally infatuation.” Perdue added, “I think it’s from such a hunger of economic stress. Everything’s looking for a savior crop out here.”
As of yesterday, eight states and ten tribes have submitted hemp plans to the USDA, and been approved. Nine states and sixteen tribes are under review.
In December, NASDA’s board of directors named hemp as a “tier one priority” for 2020, alongside international trade, food safety, and ag labor. The NASDA board establishes priorities “based on identifying the issues where we are uniquely positioned to lead,” NADSA spokesperson Amanda Culp told Cannabis Wire.
Placide Magambo contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.