USDA Secretary Puts Blame for Strict Hemp Rules on DEA

According to the head of the USDA, the DEA is partly responsible for the stringent policies included in its interim hemp rules. Last week Secretary Sonny Purdue during a House was requested to express his opinion on the hemp testing requirement concerns of producers during a hearing by the House Agriculture Committee. As per the USDA interim final rules, THC testing must be conducted by DEA-registered labs.

Farmers are worried that the restriction would hinder the growth of cannabis markets by creating costly delays, according to Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL). He further said that the testing requirement is making it difficult for the producers.

Purdue, who quickly recognized the issue, announced that the USDA would lift particular provisions in the Interim final rules temporarily, such as the testing rules. The agency would also work on streamlining the testing process. He also noted that the DEA is pressuring the USDA to maintain strict rules for marijuana products.

Purdue further said that although they tried to amend the interim final rules, they did not nail it the first time. He noted that the testing and other limitations had a lot of effects from the DEA and interagency players.

He also noted that the DEA and the interagency team were not excited about hemp. But, the agency is trying to addressing the issue of the DEA-registered labs, which is a real challenge.

Although hemp was removed from the list of controlled substances when it was legalized in 2018, thereby shifting regulatory authority over the crop from the DEA to the USDA, it not yet clear why they seem to have a lot of influence over the USDA hemp regulations.

Vote Hemp is a hemp advocacy group that first noted the shift, and after hearing the secretary’s comments, they were left wondering why officials in the Drug Czar’s office and DEA have a significant influence on farming regulations relating to hemp, and why the agency cannot regulate as they deem fit since Congress authorized them to do so under the 2018 Farm Bill.

In an email, Vote Hemp wrote that they are hoping that instead of the USDA allowing people who are opposed to hemp to dictate part of the regulations that would interfere with the success of the farmers,  the USDA should continue to work together with the hemp industry and state regulators by incorporating some of the suggested recommendations to improve the interim final rules.

Speaking to Purdue during the House Agriculture Committee hearing, Rep. James Comer (R-KY) said that he is concerned that the USDA decision to avail federal crop insurance to farmers would result in a production surplus.

Apart from the testing requirements, farmers also complained about the stipulated 0.3% THC limit which is included in the USDA interim rules; however, the USDA said that they do not have the authority to fix it as it is a statutory issue.

The growing interest in the USDA’s hemp regulation among the legislators and industry stakeholders has prompted the department to announce that they would be reopening the comment period after the 2020 planting season.

And in the meantime, the USDA is still approving state and tribal hemp plans, the latest being the state of Washington and Wyoming hemp plans.

It remains to be seen what reactions hemp industry players like Lexaria Bioscience Corp. (CSE: LXX) (OTCQX: LXRP) will have to the USDA passing the buck to the DEA on matters that the sector has taken exception to in the interim final rule.

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