The hemp boom is upon us. It’s an exciting time for anyone in the industry and a welcome change to decades of suppression and outright federal containment of a plant that is useful and profitable in numerous ways. Widespread hemp legalization at the highest levels has opened up doors for farmers and producers to meet a growing demand for plants to fuel consumer needs for CBD, textile applications, and other developing applications for hemp-based products.
But this boom is not without regulation and the US Department of Agriculture has an integral relationship with the hemp industry as it stands today. As with many regulatory agencies whose purpose exists in defining and enforcing the rules they create, a love it or hate it relationship often exists within the circles of those farmers, producers, and businesses that deal with these rules on a daily basis. Let’s examine both sides of the USDA and its relationship with hemp in an objective attempt at it stands today.
The main reason to appreciate the USDA and the relationship it has with the hemp industry is in the simple fact that the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp production at the federal level. This alone increased the viability and potential profits the industry. It was previously in murky waters as it existed in the middle ground of being legal in some states but illegal in the eyes of the federal government. This literally opened the doors for farmers across the country to start planting crops and turn their lands into fields of green if they so desired.
Rules being rules, however, mean that they are met with some resistance or disagreement. And with the regulations on the hemp industry being basically brand new, there has been plenty of dislike with the letter of the law and the practical enforcement of the rules on hemp growing and production. Growers must apply for a license to produce hemp, there are strict guidelines for the sampling and testing of plants to make sure they are within the realm of hemp and not cannabis (a distinction legally required by the amount of THC present within sample), and there are even rules on how the plants must be disposed of.
All of these regulations have resulted in complications and headaches for farmers and growers who want to take advantage of a lucrative market opportunity while doing so in the appropriate manner. While these rules are being enforced to some degree, it has been a complicated start to a blossoming new horizon. Luckily, the USDA has seen the complications evident in a once controlled substance now being legalized and has released an Interim Final Rule that delays the enforcement of certain aspects of these regulations until the expectations laid out in the Farm Bill can be put in place and more practically applied for farmers and growers.
The love/hate relationship between the USDA and hemp is in its infancy, just as the industry is itself. While legalization is a great development, the evolution of the laws and regulations governing the hemp industry are sure to see this back and forth in coming years.