The USDA has established a national domestic hemp production program. The program’s Interim Final Rule is effective through November 1, 2021, and provides regulations on testing, sampling, and the production of hemp nationwide. The USDA accepted public comments on the rule through December 30, 2019, and it’s expected that the agency will publish a final rule before the interim rule expires in November 2021. The interim rule will have a significant impact on the hemp industry. Hemp can be used to produce many consumer products, including foods and beverages, fibers, plastics, and fuel.
Hemp production in the US has long been controversial on the federal level after being banned in 1937 as part of the Marihuana Tax Act. In 2014 and 2018, parts of the farm bills passed by Congress began to allow first industrial and then farmer and tribal hemp cultivation domestically in the US. The interim rule by the USDA sets guidelines on how farmers and regulators must determine a hemp crop’s level of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). Some scientists argue that THC level isn’t a clear indicator that a crop is hemp versus a “noncompliant” plant (marijuana); however, growers who have tested crops with THC levels greater than 0.3 percent are subject to various legal consequences from the USDA and other authorities, including being barred from hemp cultivation. The alternative testing method that’s based on testing the plant’s genes to determine if it qualifies as hemp under the farm bill isn’t currently part of the interim rule.