Minnesota Lawmakers Urge Federal Agencies To Clarify Hemp Regulations

Four Minnesota lawmakers are urging federal agencies to align their collective regulatory frameworks and address inconsistencies and other issues within.

On Wednesday, November 18, Senator Tina Smith (D) and Representatives Angie Craig (D), Betty McCollum (D), and Collin Peterson (D) wrote a letter to the leaders of four federal agencies, asking them to streamline the hemp rules.

The lawmakers detail how the current contradictory federal guidelines have caused uncertainty in the market and hindered Minnesota farmers and Native American Tribes.

The passage of the 2018 Hemp Bill legalized industrial hemp production in the United States, but the letter states that despite the implementation of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Interim Rule, hurdles remain.

According to the letter, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and the Lower Sioux Indian Community have had their USDA applications approved while other states and tribes are still waiting.

Interest in growing hemp remains high among farmers, and the Minnesota Industrial Hemp Pilot grew from four licensed growers in 2016 to 467 in 2020, but according to the letter, a lack of certitude due to unclear and contradictory federal policies has resulted in the acres of planted hemp dropping from 7,353 acres in 2019 to 5,809 in 2020.

The lawmakers point to inconsistencies between federal agencies and their policies regarding acceptable levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in tested crops.

“The federal regulatory framework has proven to be inconsistent,” states the letter. “For example, the USDA’s rule stated that farmers will be held accountable—facing possible revoking of their licenses—if their crops test above a .5 percent THC level three times in a five year period. Despite this somewhat onerous and arbitrary level, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) instituted their own rule saying that exceeding .3 percent THC level deems the crop a controlled substance.”

The letter also points out that the burdensome competing rules do not allow for remediation when crops test above acceptable limits of THC.

The lawmakers write that farmers should not be penalized for plants that they intended to grow as hemp but ended up producing higher-than-expected THC levels.

According to the letter, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) guidance on CBD is still pending at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which the lawmakers say brings additional uncertainty to the market.

The letter was sent to Secretary Sonny Perdue at the USDA, Commissioner Stephen Hahn at the FDA, Director Russel Vought at the OMB, and Administrator Timothy Shea at the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).