Most farmers who decide to grow hemp go into it with good intentions and high hopes. With all the excitement generated by the opportunity to legally grow hemp, it’s easy for farmers to get caught up in the “it won’t happen to me” attitude when it comes to regulatory compliance issues.
However, compliance issues can and do happen, leaving farmers to face the real possibility of crop destruction with no way to derive economic benefit from their failed hemp plants.
If hemp exceeds the 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) threshold set by federal regulations, a farmer can be ordered to destroy the crop, otherwise known as a “hot crop.” As the former Colorado Industrial Hemp Program Manager for over three years, I had the dreadful task of telling farmers that their hemp crop tested hot.
Prior to delivering the news about the hot crop, I would brace myself for the farmer’s angry reaction. In fact, what I typically encountered was just the opposite. Farmers were polite, respectful and often even gracious— but of course, they expressed their deep disappointment at having to destroy what they worked all season to grow.
As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prepares to implement additional rules that will regulate hemp farmers, these farmers continue to struggle with how to legally grow hemp within the proposed regulatory framework. Shouldn’t we be seriously exploring how hot hemp can be used for non-ingestible hemp products like t-shirts or hempcrete where THC levels aren’t an issue? This issue must be explored and solutions must be found.
Beyond the Farm: Challenges for Regulators
As the USDA hemp rules are rolled out, regulators will also have their own share of difficulties, including:
Personal conflict. Most government regulators are good people who try to do the right thing. For these regulators, it will be personally challenging to enforce the crop destruction rules and watch the impact of crop destruction on farmers.
Reporting burdens. On the administrative side, regulators will be faced with processing a massive number of harvest reports in a very short time frame. Is the information on the harvest report accurate?
Additionally, myriad farmers will have to resubmit their report because the harvest time originally submitted must be moved up or delayed. Farmers routinely deal with hail, rain, insect infestation and a variety of other factors, all of which require them to change their anticipated harvest date. These revised harvest dates compound the administrative burden on the regulatory agency and impact inspections. From my experience, it can actually be described as “mass chaos.”
Legal challenges from hemp farmers. The 800-pound gorilla in the regulatory room is when regulators impose a sanction on a farmer and the farmer legally challenges the sanction. Once issued, a hemp registration issued by the government becomes a property right of the farmer. Property rights carry with them due process rights and an opportunity to be heard. Government agencies have tight budgets that aren’t designed to handle the financial burden of too many legal challenges.
The regulators and the hemp industry agree that regulation of hemp farming is a good thing because it protects the public and brings certainty and validity to the industry. It’s time that those rules are revisited through the lens of practicality and government efficiency, and that can’t happen until both sides are willing to listen to each other.Maureen West is general counsel and compliance officer at Functional Remedies, a pioneer in the wellness industry known for its full-spectrum, hemp-based seed-to-bottle products. Prior to her role at Functional Remedies, Maureen served in the roles of Colorado Industrial Hemp Program Manager and Colorado assistant attorney general.