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USDA Hemp Rules

On October 29, 2019 the U.S. Department of Agriculture released an interim final rule for Hemp regulations.

As a licensed Hemp grower with the NY State Department of Agriculture and Markets, we look forward to having solid regulations, but feel some of the rules are unfriendly to hemp farmers. Our specific comments, are summarized in this blog post.

As the founder of High Falls Hemp NY, a grower of high CBD Hemp and marketer of finished CBD products, I applaud the USDA’s release of the interim hemp rules as mandated by the farm bill of 2018, as it removes much uncertainty from the hemp landscape. 

However, I totally disagree with the USDA’s treatment of THC-A and the required usage of the total THC calculation to determine compliance. There are a few forms of THC in the hemp plant, notably delta-9 THC which actually gets you high and THC-A, the acidic form of THC which converts to delta-9 THC when it is heated up, (or smoked).

The Farm Bill of 2018 specifies Delta-9 THC as being the compound which needs to be limited, but the USDA rules now seek to include both forms of THC within the arbitrary 0.3% limit.

In 2018 and 2019, New York State department of Ag & Markets only sought to test delta-9 THC for compliance and not THC-A. All of our cultivars are compliant for both forms of THC up until a certain time in the harvesting cycle. For instance, when we tested our plants on September 21st, they had a total THC (combined THC-A and delta-9 THC) at or below the 0.3% guideline, but when we retested them on October 4th, the total THC levels ranged from 0.3 to 0.5%.

If the new guidelines were in force, we would have to harvest all our crops by the last week of September. The reality is that it takes us a few weeks to harvest our 12 acres and we could inadvertently go over the THC level under the new USDA rules when the harvest drags into October. Additionally, if we were forced to harvest in September, our CBD levels would be lower and accordingly, the value of our crop.

Here is where the entire dialogue gets interesting: We are regulated by the state of New York, and New York could decide to allow THC-A levels above 0.3% for the 2020 growing season according to the new USDA rules, and then see what the USDA says about the acceptability of this compliance regime going forward.

My guess is that the USDA will seek to limit total THC and would reject individual state plans for 2021 going forward. The new NY state hemp legislation, which passed both the state assembly and the state senate is in review with the Governor’s office, and likely to be signed into law by December 31st, only seeks to require compliance with the delta-9 THC levels. So, while New York state has legislation which will likely allow a different THC compliance regime and one more friendly to its CBD growers, it might ultimately get rejected by the USDA for the 2021 growing season. 

My recommendation to the Department of Ag & Markets in NY, New York state legislators and the Governor is to go ahead with the THC-A compliance regime which has existed for the 2018 and 2019 growing seasons and is embedded with the new hemp legislation. This would allow New York Hemp Growers to grow hemp under the existing delta-9 THC limits for 2020, and hopefully sanity will return to the Hempisphere after enough voices make their viewpoint known before the 2021 season.