Lawmakers in Washington D.C. heard testimonies from a slate of hemp advocates and stakeholders in the industry looking to provide input on the commercial production and processing of the crop.
The hearing, titled, “An Examination of the USDA Hemp Production Program” was held last Thursday by the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research (Committee on Agriculture).
In her opening statement, Chair Stacey Plaskett (D-USVI) said that while markets for hemp products such as fiber, grain and flower are developing, “they are still volatile and uncertain.”
“To support farmers and producers in the ongoing development of this emerging sector, it’s crucial that USDA continue to work to support and expand hemp production and the hemp industry,” she said, adding “As we look towards the next Farm Bill, we can continue to address ongoing issues and provide our farmers, producers, processors and agricultural researchers with the resources they need.”
USDA, FDA Absent
Members of the committee including Jim Baird (R-IN) as well as Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) noted the absence of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) representatives at the hearing, considering the central role the agencies play in hemp regulation.
Kate Greenberg, Commissioner Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) said in her remarks that the 2018 Farm Bill burdens hemp producers with high sampling and testing fees, required background checks, and FSA acreage reporting, “which is duplicative in nature because it is already reported to the USDA through state reporting.”
“Hemp has the potential to create new economic opportunities for farmers who are dealing with a changing climate and increasingly arid land,” she said. “Our young farmers and ranchers are constantly seeking new ways to support their bottom line and the environment at the same time. The hemp industry has the potential to advance CDA’s priorities if we listen to our producers and implement sensible regulations.”
Ryan Quarles, Kentucky Department of Agriculture Commissioner (KDA) said that acreage for the crop has fallen since the 2020 growing season because supply has outpaced demand. He also added that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) should not have to play a role in testing and that the THC limit for hemp plants should sit at one percent instead of the current 0.3%.
Marijuana Moment previously reported that House Appropriations Committee leaders released spending legislation asking the USDA to create further guidance on hemp. The legislation also recommended that the USDA coordinate with the DEA and figure out how to manage concerns about enforcement actions for hemp that exceeds the 0.3% THC limit.
At the same time, “it would be appropriate for the new one percent limit to include not only Delta-9 THC, but every other THC isomer which could have an intoxicating effect on consumers,” Quarles said, such as synthetically created Delta-8, Delta-10, Delta-7, HHC, and others.
Consumer products should require a separate legal standard focusing on quantities, he added, not percent concentration by weight.
“Embracing a “total THC” standard instead of a “Delta-9 THC only” standard will establish a threshold which better reflects the material’s true intoxicating potential,” he said. “Congress should consider adopting a separate definition for consumer-ready hemp products. The current law’s definition is focused on the chemical compounds within the hemp plant at the time of its harvest in the field or greenhouse; it is not a useful yardstick for measuring the intoxicating potential of consumer products that are intended for human consumption such as gummies, liquids, vapes, or “smokeables.”
Eric Wang, CEO of Ecofibre who testified on behalf of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, agreed with the sentiment.
“Bad actors are selling products without appropriate safeguards and misleading consumers with false label claims,” he said. “Further, some struggling farmers and businesses have pivoted to market intoxicating products such as Delta-8 THC, prompting FDA and CDC warnings that they pose significant consumer health and safety risks, particularly for minors.”
In Wang’s testimony, he expressed that “a clear regulatory pathway for CBD would not only relieve the economic pressure that is leading to this product shift, but would also help ensure products do not contain intoxicating hemp ingredients.”
Industry interests reflect a range of national and regional groups with varied priorities, many times depending on the products they produce and whether the hemp is used for its fiber, grain, or flower.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) said in a March report that some shared priorities call for relaxing USDA’s regulatory standards, “which are perceived by the hemp industry and some state regulators to be overly restrictive and impractical,” as well as removing the role of the DEA in hemp regulation.
The report also recommended that Congress address industry concerns about the lack of FDA regulations for hemp-derived CBD products in the food supply chain, which it said could become a public safety threat.
“An open question is whether changes to FDA laws and regulations are within the farm bill’s jurisdiction,” the report said.
In a May hearing, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf lamented agency action on CBD and expressed his interest in developing a regulatory path despite the FDA’s limited authorities under current law.
“I don’t think the current authorities we have on the food side or the drug side necessarily give us what we need to have to get the right pathways forward,” Califf told lawmakers. “We’re going to have to come up with something new. I’m very committed to doing that.”
Marcus Grignon, a tribal spokesman and executive director of Hempstead Project Heart, also made recommendations to the panel such as separating the definition and regulation of industrial hemp from cannabinoid or floral hemp, which he says are “easily differentiated with a visual inspection,” and removing the testing and background requirements for hemp grain and fiber producers.
Hemp operations need to be able to interact with banks and insurance companies more freely, he said, as it is difficult to source a bank that will take business accounts connected to hemp production and processing. The sobering lull of federal legalization has deflated industry optimism of companies engaging with banks and credit card companies soon.
He added that the USDA should issue stamps of approval for hemp being shipped between the various jurisdictions in the United States to help mitigate issues related to interstate commerce.
“While these suggestions do not cover all the needed changes, these top three will enhance the American hemp industry, ease burdensome regulations for farmers and create more demand for hemp-made materials,” he said.