The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Monday that its final rule on hemp is moving ahead as-is for implementation March 22.
This comes after the USDA announced in late January, after President Joe Biden was sworn into office, that the final rule was under review.
The final rule implements generally favorable changes for the hemp industry from the USDA’s interim final rule, including an increase in the hemp sampling window, flexibility in sampling standards and additional options for hot hemp disposal. The rule, however, retains some aspects many in the industry hoped to see amended - namely the 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) limit in hemp. (Changing that, however, requires an act of Congress and is out of the USDA’s purview.)
The USDA did delay one especially contentious aspect of the final rule: the requirement that hemp testing labs will need to be registered by the DEA, which has been pushed until December 2022.
“The NIHC [National Industrial Hemp Council] would be in favor of a delayed enforcement of specific provisions regarding sampling and testing,” Larry Farnsworth, the spokesperson for the NIHC, said in a statement. “...“We do need regulatory certainty and NIHC appreciates what USDA is doing. The benefit of delayed enforcement of specific provisions is that it keeps the rule in place, allowing everyone to move forward, without forcing regulators and the industry to implement costly and uncertain methodologies that would no longer be needed with the new legislation.”
Farnsworth pointed out that the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) recently voted in support of changing the total THC limit in hemp to 1% at the federal level.
He added that “legislation on Capitol Hill is likely to follow. This would complicate the USDA’s efforts to implement those specific provisions.”
In late December, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Hemp Economic Mobilization Plan (HEMP) Act of 2020 to increase the THC limit in hemp to 1%.