Charles E. Schumer

12/02/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/02/2019 10:04

SCHUMER: AS FINGER LAKES HEMP FARMERS RAISE MAJOR CONCERNS WITH PROPOSED FED GUIDELINES, USDA RUSHES THROUGH VITAL RULEMAKING PROCESS, LEAVING UPSTATE FARMERS WITH MANY LOOMING[...]

12.02.19

USDA's Recently Proposed Hemp Guidelines Would Set A Full Slate Of Regs On The Rapidly-Emerging Industrial Hemp Industry; Farmers Fear Rules, If Not Wisely Devised, Could Restrict Growth & Economic Potential

Schumer Calls For 60-Day Extension Of Comment Period To Ensure All Stakeholders, Including Farmers, Growers, Manufacturers & Producers, Have Their Concerns Heard

Schumer: Proposed Hemp Regulations Need Time To Germinate Before They're Finalized To Ensure Stakeholders Reap Maximum Economic Impact

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 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.

Specifically, Schumer expressed his concern over USDA's proposed Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program, which was published on October 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. 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,' said Senator Schumer. '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 Orleans County, Upstate New York and the entire nation. The comment period for the proposed Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program began on October 31 and is set to end on December 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 in Orleans County and 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.

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

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

A copy of Schumer's letter to USDA appears below.

Dear Secretary Perdue,

I write to you in regard to the proposed interim final rule concerning the Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program, published October 31, 2019 in the federal register. Given this crop has not seen domestic commercial cultivation in almost a century, a clear framework is necessary to ensure adherence to federal regulation, and the establishment of a supportive structure to ensure successful domestic industrial hemp production. The proposed rule, is a necessary step to accomplish these goals. Although, I appreciate the work USDA has done thus far to develop this rule, I have heard expressions of widespread concerns and industry uncertainty from stakeholders throughout New York State. I am concerned that this interim final rule, includes regulations that could have harmful effects on hemp production in New York State and across the country.

First and foremost, given the new nature of this industry and the economic potential it holds it is critical that the federal government devises a rule that is as robust, clear and thorough as possible. To do so, it is critical that stakeholders including farmers and producers provide as much comment and input as possible. To ensure ample participation, I request that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) extend the comment period an additional 60 days, past the current deadline of December 31, 2019, thereby, ensuring the public ample time, to further analyze the proposed rule and develop comments, to help guide the USDA towards the best possible final rule for establishing a successful hemp program throughout New York State, and across the country.

While the interim rule has only been published a few weeks, I am aware of numerous concerns that producers, farmers and advocacy groups have already expressed. Many of these center around concerns over the tight time frame for sampling and testing, the ambiguity of guidelines for THC level testing, and the restrictiveness for retesting if the threshold for THC exceeds allowable levels.

Specifically, regarding the 15 day window pre-anticipated harvesting for all testing and sampling to occur, concerns advanced highlight this window may be too close to harvest time, and compliance may be further hindered by the potential scarcity of DEA-registered laboratories in state, to perform testing in a timely manner.

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 advanced pertain to the sampling methodology focused on the hemp flower, versus inclusion of the totality of the plant to determine THC levels.

Given these concerns and others, it is my request the USDA further develop these proposed guidelines with the help of farmers and producers to create more effective guidelines that allow this burgeoning industry to grow.

Once again, I appreciate your efforts to help establish guidelines for the hemp program, however it is my request that you extend the comment period to gather further input and craft the best possible rule for this up and coming industry. Thank you for your attention to this important matter and please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Sincerely,

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