Congressman Riggleman Suggests Changes To Domestic Hemp Production Program

Virginia Congressman Denver Riggleman has sent a letter to United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue to discuss the possibility of changes to the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program that would reduce the regulation of hemp farming, processing, and distribution.

The letter was cosigned by the Virginia delegation in the House of Representatives.

While the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new interim final rule on industrial hemp has provided clarity for farmers, regulators, and law enforcement, Congressman Riggleman and the delegation believe that improvements can be made to benefit farmers and better align the rule with reality.

“Virginia and the 5th District are uniquely positioned to lead in the arena of hemp production and I am grateful to the entire Virginia delegation for signing this letter regarding the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program,” said Congressman Riggleman. “Industrial hemp is a potential game-changer for Southside Virginia. If we can improve the USDA hemp program to help Virginia farmers, we have the potential to bring huge economic growth to the 5th District. This letter will provide clarity for farmers and help production.”

In lieu of the interim final rule requirement for each lot to be sampled before going to market, the delegation recommends that only a percentage of each crop be tested.

To ensure that THC levels are within required limits, without burdening the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services or the Commonwealth’s testing centers, the delegation suggests that sampling procedures be varied for repeat offenders as well as when complaints are received.

Under the interim final rule, THC levels in hemp crops must be determined within 15 days of an anticipated harvest.

Believing that 15 days is an unachievable window for growers to sample each crop, submit samples, and receive a response before sending the hemp to market, the delegation recommends extending the timeline to 30 days.

“The current, unrealistic 15-day window will hinder the industry as it continues to grow,” states the letter. “And will strain eligible testing centers.”

The delegation also requests that, in addition to utilizing Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) laboratories, independent labs be permitted to conduct testing to prevent a backlog of test samples at DEA facilities, which could potentially cause Virginia farmers and processors in the hemp supply chain to lose market share and be pushed out of the growing market.

If THC levels in a farmer’s hemp crops exceed the final interim rule threshold of 0.5 percent, the farmer can be prosecuted under the law.

Believing that the limit is set too low, the delegation recommends that it be set to the highest possible threshold to protect good-faith farmers who follow the law and engage in best practices.

The delegation also recommends implementing a mediation option to provide farmers, who act in good faith but accidentally exceed THC limits, the opportunity to resolve the issue without the threat of criminal prosecution.

Finally, the letter urges the USDA to be mindful of how the interim rule interacts with state planning, noting that legislatures in states such as Virginia are only in session for a short time each year.

Virginia will be unable to align its State Code with the USDA final rule if it is published too late for complimentary legislation to be passed during the 2020 session.

The delegation asks the USDA to consider state timelines in its rule making and allow states the flexibility to devise and implement their plans so that they are in-line with federal guidance.

In closing, the letter states that, at a time when farmers are experiencing low commodity prices, extreme weather, and volatile market fluctuations, providing producers with clear and reasonable regulatory guidance is particularly important as the delegation fears that the implementation of the current rule would prohibit farmers, especially smaller ones, from entering the market.