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December 19, 2019 6:00 PM, EST

USDA Extends Public Comment Period on Hemp Rule to Jan. 29

hemp plantIndustrial hemp plants. (Minnesota Department of Agriculture)

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended the public comment period on its interim final hemp rule for 30 days — until Jan. 29.

The rule, published in the Federal Register on Oct. 31, establishes a domestic hemp production program authorized by the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, signed into law in December 2018.

The rule outlines provisions for the Department of Agriculture to approve plans submitted by states and Indian tribes for the domestic production of hemp and formalizes USDA’s detailed program that will allow hemp to be grown under federally approved plans and make hemp producers eligible for a number of agricultural programs. Most importantly to truckers, it also includes a provision that prohibits states from interfering with the interstate transportation of hemp.

hemp 2019-23749 by Transport Topics on Scribd

The transport provision in the rule will not only afford the trucking industry a potentially lucrative — and legal — new business venture, it will allow hemp producers better access to nationwide markets.

While the rule clears up the hemp interstate transportation issue that has confused many motor carriers, it also cautions that the hemp being transported must meet the legal definition of hemp and cannot contain the level of THC that would classify it as marijuana. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the compound that gives pot its high.

In a recorded video announcement, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the rule requires that growers be licensed by the state or USDA to grow hemp, and they must have drug-testing protocols to make sure their product is “hemp and nothing else.”

Hemp is a member of the cannabis plant family but absent the high levels of THC. Hemp is used for products including cannabidiol, or CBD, a substance some believe to effectively treat such maladies as anxiety, cognition problems, movement disorders and pain. It also is used in such common products as paper, clothing and jewelry.

One of the challenges for the new rule is that law enforcement does not currently have the means to quickly verify whether the cannabis being transported is hemp or marijuana. One of the ways the interim rule attempts to help law enforcement is to require that all hemp production be sampled and tested for THC concentration levels by growers. Under the rule, samples must be collected by a USDA-approved sampling agent or a federal, state or local law enforcement agent authorized by USDA to collect samples.

“It is the responsibility of the licensed producer to pay any fees associated with sampling. USDA will issue guidance on sampling procedures that will satisfy sampling requirements to coincide with publication of this rule,” USDA said. “This guidance will be provided on the USDA website.”

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