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Vt. Ag Official: USDA's Hemp Rules Less About Farmers, More About Law Enforcement

Hemp buds hang to dry
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Hemp buds hang to dry in a barn in Guilford. This week the USDA released its proposed rules for hemp cultivation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its long-anticipated rules governing the cultivation of hemp across the country, but a Vermont Agency of Agriculture official said the federal proposal doesn't go far enough to support farmers.

The 2018 Farm Bill authorized states to come up with their own rules for the growing and processing of hemp, and the Agency of Agriculture is in the process of finalizing its own state plan.

More from Vermont EditionVermont's Booming Summer Hemp Crop [Aug. 5]

Cary Giguere, the agency's director of public health and resource management, said the proposed federal rules don't appear to conflict with most of the state's plan.

However, Giguere said he was hoping that the new federal rules would include resources for market development and research, which are usually included when USDA programs are developed.

"The program that we're trying to build, it's really all about consumer protection, quality control and protecting the farmer and the farmer's investment and interest," Giguere said. "The USDA rule that they made public yesterday more appropriately belongs in a law enforcement agency because really the only thing it speaks to is preventing conversion to THC, destroying a crop, and making sure that convicted felons aren't allowed to grow a crop. So our rules don't overlap all that much."

Giguere said Vemont wants to use genetic testing for measuring THC content, a method which USDA does not recognize. He said the Agency of Agriculture will work with members of Vermont's congressional delegation to make sure that method is approved as part of Vermont's state plan.

More from VPR — Yes, You Can Smoke Hemp. And Yes, It's Gaining Popularity [Aug. 22]

USDA is recommending that all hemp be tested not only for THC, but also THCA — an inactive compound that can be turned into THC during drying or processing.

Vermont would not be affected by this change because growers here have already been testing for the THCA when determining total THC content. However, Giguere said, almost 70% of the hemp in this country has not been tested for THCA.

"This is a game changer and it's going to affect a lot of the hemp that was produced last year," Giguere said.  "This rule is going to cause absolute chaos for folks that are trying to bring their product to market when they've been operating under a different rule."

The federal proposal also requires all testing labs to be licensed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Adminstration.

The USDA rules will be filed Thursday in the Federal Register, which will open a 60-day comment period. Giguere said he expects Vermont will comment on the federal rules within the next few weeks and then submit its state plan for approval in the next month or so.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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