The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released much-anticipated proposed rules governing hemp on Tuesday, and the development was promptly met with applause from lawmakers and industry stakeholders.
While USDA said it is waiting until the conclusion of a 60-day public comment period before working to approve state and tribal hemp plans, the draft document it unveiled signals that farmers will soon be able to take full advantage of the newly legal crop—something that members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have been fighting for since it was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
Here’s how people are reacting:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wasted no time getting to the Senate floor to celebrate USDA’s announcement. As the chief proponent of the farm bill’s hemp legalization provision, the senator has repeatedly pushed the department to quickly implement regulations to unleash the industry’s potential.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue “will release a new USDA regulation to implement my initiative and move hemp closer to being treated just like every other commodity,” he said. “This new policy will help farmers around the country continue pioneering this crop into the 21st century. And I’m proud to say Kentucky is prepared to take the lead.”
“This year alone, hemp is growing on more than 26,000 acres in Kentucky across 101 of our 120 counties. It supports hundreds of jobs and tens of millions in sales. So I impressed upon USDA the need to finalize this new framework before the 2020 growing season. And I’d like to thank Secretary Perdue and the USDA for fulfilling this commitment with the announcement we are expecting later this morning.”
McConnell stressed that “our work to support the future of hemp is hardly over,” noting ongoing conversations within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about developing rules providing for the lawful marketing of hemp-derived CBD products.
“There will inevitably be ups and downs as this new industry develops, but today’s announcement is another crucial step,” he said. “So, it’s a privilege for me to stand with Kentucky farmers every step of the way. Together, we’ll continue charting hemp’s course into the future.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), another vocal advocate for hemp, also weighed in on USDA’s interim rule.
“I’ve long said that if you can make and sell hemp products in America, you should be able to grow hemp in America,” he said in a statement. “Congress passed my bipartisan Hemp Farming Act, and now federal regulations must be updated to reflect hemp’s legal status.”
“The USDA interim rule is an important first step to ending uncertainty for farmers, and I now look forward to reviewing the rule and working with the USDA and FDA to ensure farmers in Oregon and nationwide can fully realize this crop’s economic job-creating potential,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), who said that hemp represents “a great opportunity to create jobs and grow Montana [agriculture].” He thanked Purdue and USDA for their “leadership on this issue.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) said his state has “led the way in research and development of hemp for years” and said that the plant is “a new cash crop which is drought resistant, good for our land, & allows for more diversification.”
“I’m happy to see this program from USDA is developing the industrial hemp rules and regulations,” Rep. James Comer (R-KY) said in a press release. “This is a key step in helping this emerging industry move forward.”
The congressman also mentioned that legalization hemp was one of his campaign promises when running for agriculture commissioner in Kentucky in 2011.
Another congressman from Kentucky, Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), touted the role hemp has played in the state’s economy and said USDA’s announcement “will provide certainty to farmers and allow the industry to develop even further.”
“I will continue to work in Congress to ensure our hemp farmers have the resources they need to grow their businesses,” he said.
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) said she’s pushed for months to have USDA “establish federal rules clarifying legal pathways for #hemp growers” because the lack of regulations caused the industry’s success to be “hindered.”
I look forward to working with USDA to ensure this interim final rule works for Maine hemp growers and provides them with eligibility for the full range of USDA programs,” the congresswoman said.
In a statement, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said his department will immediately act upon USDA’s regulations by conducting “a comprehensive review of our existing hemp program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s interim final rule.”
“We will have open dialogue with our growers, processors, and industry stakeholders about what this plan means for our state,” he said. “I would like to thank the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Secretary Sonny Perdue, and Under Secretary Greg Ibach for their swift movement on putting together a rule for discussion, not even a year after the 2018 Farm Bill was signed.”
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said that the rules were “welcome news” and that the state’s hemp program “remains on track ahead of the 2020 growing season.”
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said that the state will work to submit a plan to USDA and warned people not to grow hemp in the meantime.
“We look forward to reviewing the proposed hemp program rules provided by the USDA. We will use this information to refine Iowa’s draft hemp plan before we submit it to USDA for approval,” he said. “We are working hard to have Iowa’s hemp program implemented in time for the 2020 growing season. In the meantime, we want to caution people that it is not legal to cultivate, grow or distribute hemp in Iowa until the USDA approves our state plans. We also encourage growers to make sure they have quality seed and a buyer identified before they invest in hemp production.”
Oregon’s Department of Agriculture said it is “reviewing the 161-pages and is working to determine what changes if any need to be made to Oregon’s hemp program.”
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) similarly said it will move ahead and submit a regulatory plan for hemp to USDA.
“Just like other states, we’re excited about the potential for industrial hemp,” the department said in a tweet. “The MDA is reviewing the interim rule and will work toward submitting our state plan to USDA.”
Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, applauded USDA’s acceptance of a narrow interpretation of the ban on hemp industry participation by people with felony drug convictions that advocates had urged.
“We are pleased that, in the final rules, we were able to get the felony conviction ban removed for hemp workers, so that they can at least participate in the industry,” he said in a press release. “Unfortunately, more work still remains to completely eliminate the ban, so those with felony convictions can—not just work in the industry—but also lead it by being able to obtain licenses of their own. It is inconceivable that those that have been the most harmed by prohibition would then be further inflicted by being barred from taking part in the new legal economy.”
Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, said the group is “excited to see the long awaited USDA hemp regulations announced this morning and feel USDA has done a good job.”
“We will be reviewing the regulations and providing comments as we expect some minor changes will be needed to ensure that the regulations work well for American farmers,” he said.
Shawn Hauser, partner and chair of the hemp and cannabinoids practice group at Vicente Sederberg LLP, said USDA’s issuance of hemp rules “represents a major agricultural, economic, and environmental milestone for our country.”
“After decades of being inappropriately classified as a narcotic, hemp is finally going to start being treated as an agricultural commodity in the U.S.,” she said. “Because it is one of the most versatile and sustainable crops on Earth, hemp holds significant promise not only for farmers, manufacturers, and consumers, but also for our planet. This is an exceptionally important development, and its historical significance truly cannot be overstated.”
“The USDA has established a regulatory framework that will serve as an infrastructure for the U.S. hemp economy. These interim rules provide long-awaited clarity, not only for farmers, but also for regulators and service providers like banks and insurance companies, who were hesitant to work with hemp-related businesses without federal guidelines. The rules also provide hemp farmers with important safeguards and benefits generally afforded to agricultural program participants, such as protection against state interference of interstate commerce, and eligibility for federal grants and programs.”
“We are thrilled that the Interim Final Rule has been released, and we are both eagerly poring over the details and encouraging all Hemp Supporters to share their feedback with us,” Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, said. “Last Friday, our Board of Directors met privately with USDA Undersecretary Greg Ibach, and we were encouraged by his strong support for the hemp program and his interest in receiving industry feedback. We look forward to working with the USDA to develop the strongest possible domestic hemp program in the months ahead.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation said USDA’s rules “will provide clarity to hemp producers on everything from crop insurance, testing methods, and crop destruction protocols.”
Prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana said it had several concerns with the rules, including interstate shipping issues and smokable hemp.