Biden transition leaves hemp operators wondering about new USDA rules

Farmers still making sense of long-delayed nationwide rules for growing hemp in 2021 and beyond got another wrinkle Wednesday when the incoming administration of President Joe Biden ordered a “freeze” on new regulations.

The memo instructed federal agencies — including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees hemp production — to consider additional 30-day comment periods for rules that have been finalized but not yet taken effect. Hemp falls into that category; the rules were published Tuesday but don’t take effect until March.

The memo said the additional comment period is a request, but not a requirement. USDA hasn’t answered multiple attempts from Hemp Industry Daily to find out how the agency plans to approach the hemp rules through the administrative transition.

Biden has announced his choice to lead the USDA, former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack of Iowa. But the selection must be approved by the Senate, which has not yet announced a schedule for confirmation hearings.

The final hemp rules give hemp farmers more breathing room if their crops exceed legal THC limits of 0.3% THC. They also give the industry options to sell parts of those plants, as well as more time before testing labs need certification by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

But some in the hemp industry were dismayed that the final version offers no route to market for cannabis in excess of 0.3% THC and retains unpopular requirements such as mandating that sampling be done by designated field agents.