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November 27, 2019 - 1:18pm

Schumer calls on feds to extend comment period for hemp growers, says rules are rushed, issues loom

posted by Billie Owens in Basom, hemp, business, agriculture.

Press release:

Standing at Gina and Terry Miller’s Organic Hemp Farm in Albion, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, flanked by farmers and industry experts, today called on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to extend the comment period for a proposed interim final rule that presents a number of potential problems and challenges to the rapidly emerging and growing industrial hemp industry in Orleans County, Genesee County and throughout the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region.

Schumer urged the USDA to listen to these concerns from growers and producers and to make improvements to the final rule. Last month, he visited the Mills Family Farm on Ham Road in Basom to get input from local farmers.

Specifically, Schumer expressed his concern over USDA’s proposed "Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program," which was published on Oct. 31st of this year. Schumer explained that he’s been approached by farmers, producers and stakeholders from across the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region who have concerns that the proposed regulations regarding the sampling and testing of hemp are imprecise, not fully reflective of farmers’ challenges, and could have a seriously negative impact on the fledgling industry, stunting growth and the creation of good-paying jobs.

Industrial hemp is a type of cannabis plant that is grown largely for industrial uses, but it can also be used for food, oil, and cosmetic products.

Schumer argued that given the new nature of this industry and the economic potential it holds, USDA should extend the comment period for the "Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program" interim final rule, and improve the regulations, to ensure that farmers and the public have ample time to submit comments to help guide the best possible final rule for establishing the hemp program.

“When it comes to an industry as promising as industrial hemp in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region, the feds need to get it right the first time, and not rush to any reckless regulatory decisions. Regulating this rapidly-emerging industry is a must, but any rules must be part of a well-thought-out process that carefully considers the needs of all stakeholders—from farmers and growers to producers and manufacturers,” Senator Schumer said.

“That’s why today I’m urging USDA to extend the comment period for its proposed final rule on hemp production to ensure that farmers, growers and producers have ample time to provide input and have their concerns listened to and that a meaningful part of these concerns is integrated into the final rule.

"These hemp experts have serious fears about how this proposed rulemaking could impose unrealistic or poorly thought out rules, restrict their industry, cut-off growth and stop the creation of good-paying jobs. So, it is incumbent on USDA, the chief agricultural regulators in the United States, to hear them out and make improvements to the final regulations that are balanced and smart.”

Schumer explained that the proposed rule, which is a necessary step to support domestic industrial hemp production, potentially includes regulations that could have harmful effects on hemp production in Upstate New York and the entire nation. The comment period for the proposed "Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program" began on Oct. 31 and is set to end on Dec. 31st of this year.

However, Schumer argued, with stakeholders having such serious and valid concerns about the rule, it is critical that they have adequate time to submit their comments on it. Therefore, Schumer strongly urged USDA to extend the public comment period by 60 days, so that growers and producers have ample time to make their case—and so it can be thoroughly reviewed and analyzed to best address the concerns of hemp producers throughout Upstate New York.

Schumer pointed to a few provisions under the proposed "Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program" final rule that farmers and producers have expressed their concerns over, specifically related to the timeframe for sampling and testing of industrial hemp, the lack of available places to do this testing, the guidelines for THC level testing, and the restrictiveness for retesting if the threshold for THC exceeds allowable levels.

For example, under the rule, producers would have a 15-day timeframe for the harvesting, sampling and testing of crops. However, Schumer explained, since this testing typically takes 5-6 business days alone, the proposed final rule creates a tight turnaround and affords farmers very little leeway in the prescribed timeline.

Furthermore, Schumer explained the short 15-day window may be further hindered by the potential scarcity of DEA-registered laboratories in state, to perform testing in a timely manner. Additionally, Schumer said the current draft regulations do not afford any provisions for growers to salvage or retest crops that initial tests exceed the established .03 THC threshold. Crop insurance, which is often difficult to procure, still affords no protections for most farmers in these circumstances.

Other concerns highlighted by Schumer pertain to the sampling methodology to determine accurate THC levels.

Hemp contains a very small amount, typically between 0.2 and 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and while from the same species of plant as marijuana, it has varied widely in use. However, due to the existence of THC in hemp, Schumer explained, both plants were considered “controlled substances” under federal law, meaning the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was the primary regulator for hemp production.

Schumer argued that this narrow view has undermined the crop’s agricultural and economic potential. With the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 passed by Congress and signed into law last year, this unnecessary roadblock has been lifted, and industrial hemp’s significant potential to become a cash crop in Upstate New York will be unleashed.

The Schumer-backed Hemp Farming Act of 2018 was introduced by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). It passed and was signed into law as part of the 2018 Farm Bill.

This legislation:

  • Removed industrial hemp from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act;
  • Empowered states to be the principal regulators of hemp;
  • Allowed hemp researchers to apply for competitive grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); and
  • Made hemp farmers eligible to apply for crop insurance.

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