USDA Publishes Final Rules for Industrial Hemp Production

hemp plant

Last week, the USDA’s final rule set that establishes a domestic industrial hemp production program took effect. The 2018 Farm Bill federally legalized the commercial production and processing of industrial hemp products in the United States. The Farm Bill allowed individual states to create programs for licensing and regulating industrial hemp production subject to USDA review and approval.

In Michigan, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) administers the state industrial hemp program. The USDA’s rules lay out the guidelines for states to follow in ensuring their industrial hemp plans will be approved by the USDA. The rules also provide federal regulations on industrial hemp production and processing, testing levels for THC, disposal of plants, and other regulatory and compliance matters.

In response to the USDA’s final rule set, which was published on January 19, 2021, the Michigan Legislature amended the Michigan Industrial Hemp Growers Act to harmonize state law with the USDA’s rule sets.

For those planning on growing industrial hemp this season, here are some of the key changes to be aware of:

  • Growers must have their industrial hemp sampled and tested for THC levels prior to harvest.
  • Growers now have 30 days to harvest their hemp after it is sampled—an increase from the previous 15-day requirement.
  • Growers now have options for remediating noncompliant hemp (hemp that has a THC level that exceeds 0.3% THC). Growers can either:
    • (A) dispose of the flower (or buds) of the plant and salvage the remainder of the plant; or
    • (B) blend the entire plant into a biomass-like material.
  • The initial rules contemplated testing for THC levels to only be handled by DEA-registered labs. However, given the currently limited number of DEA-registered labs, the USDA has postponed this requirement until December 31, 2022. This change will allow time for additional DEA-registered labs to come online to avoid a bottleneck in testing at the end of the growing season.
  • The threshold for a negligent violation with respect to THC levels in industrial hemp has been increased from 0.5% THC up to 1% THC. An industrial hemp grower may only have one negligent violation per growing season. This change will make it more feasible for growers to enter the space, as industrial hemp is a new crop to many Michigan farmers, and will further allow additional time for the creation of stabler genetic variations of industrial hemp with consistently low THC production.

These changes in the USDA’s final rule set should help more farmers have confidence in adding industrial hemp to their crop rotation. Michigan farmers looking to grow industrial hemp this season should take the time to review the resources MDARD posted on its website to ensure compliance. Because industrial hemp and marijuana are the exact same plant—cannabis sativa, some farmers may have anxiety about growing the plant, given that marijuana remains illegal under federal law. However, the USDA’s final rule set together with the robust program that MDARD has implemented should put farmers at ease.

Industrial hemp is an incredibly useful crop that humans have cultivated for thousands of years given its utility. Industrial hemp can be used for fiber production, which is stronger and softer than cotton and lasts twice as long. It can also be used to create paper; 1 acre of hemp will produce as much paper as 2 to 4 acres of trees. Hemp can also be used for food for both humans and livestock. For farmers, industrial hemp can serve as both a cash crop and a cover crop—doing double duty. Industrial hemp has also been something of a catalyst for getting a new generation of Americans interested in farming.

If you’re interested in adding industrial hemp to your crop rotation, the cannabis law attorneys at Grewal Law PLLC can help you navigate the state and federal legal and regulatory landscape to ensure that you are protected. Our team can help you acquire the appropriate licenses, fill out the right paperwork, and ensure compliance.

Contact Grewal Law PLLC online or call us at (888) 211-5798 today to schedule your free consultation.

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