‘The DEA is mentioned 42 times’: Hemp industry disturbed by agency’s involvement in THC testing rules

(Photo courtesy of DEA)

(This story has been updated with the DEA’s response on finding a testing lab.)

Hemp farmers and industry advocates are alarmed that federal agriculture officials have brought drug enforcement back into the fold to ensure that cannabis produced for hemp in the United States does not exceed the acceptable limit of 0.3% THC.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s interim federal rules for hemp production, released Oct. 31, require that only laboratories registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will be qualified to conduct THC testing of hemp crops.

Industry members worry the limitation could delay THC testing and create bottlenecks, especially in remote areas far from a DEA-registered lab.

“It appears that many of the existing (DEA) labs don’t have the equipment and capacity to service the hemp industry,” cannabis attorney Shawn Hauser of Denver-based firm Vicente Sederberg said last week during a webcast with Hemp Industry Daily.

The rules propose that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) may establish an approval process for labs that want to offer THC testing services. Those labs would need certification by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which could be a suitable alternative, according to Hauser.

If the USDA chooses to approve testing labs, it could accredit laboratories that perform to a certain quality, in addition to requiring a particular ISO accreditation.

This is a departure for the DEA, which does not require labs to be accredited to handle narcotics. However, the USDA-approved labs would still have to be registered with the DEA.

The alternate testing protocol “would give USDA the proper oversight of the laboratories doing the testing, providing quality assurance and control procedures that ensure a validated and qualified analysis, and defensible data,” the interim rules state.

The USDA is requesting comments on the requirements for laboratories and will likely need to make changes regarding this issue, Hauser said.

Lab availability a mystery

The rules state that DEA-registered labs – and, potentially, USDA-approved labs – will ultimately be listed on the Agriculture Department’s Domestic Hemp Production website.

However, DEA spokeswoman Katherine Pfaff told Hemp Industry Daily that agency policy conflicts with that statement.

“DEA is still working through many of these details with USDA,” Pfaff wrote in an email to Hemp Industry Daily, which asked about the testing plans.

“We do not release information about specific DEA registrants, so we do not provide a list of labs registered with the DEA.”

Meanwhile, laboratories looking for information on becoming DEA-registered to perform chemical analysis should visit the DEA Diversion Control Division website to apply for an analytical lab registration. Form DEA-225 should be used, according to Pfaff.

DEA anxiety

For some, the idea that the DEA is involved at all is upsetting.

Denver attorney Frank Robison said he counted the number of times DEA was mentioned in the rule. By his calculation, the agency had 42 mentions, compared with two references about banking.

“It just shows that the priorities within the rule are skewed against the farmer in a way that would prohibit and restrict commerce as opposed to promoting commerce,” Robison told Hemp Industry Daily.

“And, in my view, the intent of Congress is to promote a commercial environment and commercial industry for hemp.

“We’re worried about 1,000 parts-per-million THC, when we should be worried about getting this industry off the ground and helping American farmers, providing them access to capital and making sure that their crops are insured.”

Hemp industry consultant Ryan Pettigrew said it makes sense the DEA would be involved, considering that crops testing hot would technically be marijuana, which remains a Schedule 1 drug on the controlled substances list.

“That one was obvious – there was really no argument to it,” Pettigrew told Hemp Industry Daily.

“Granted, in a perfect world, they would just deregulate everything,” he continued. “But that’s just not going to happen.”

The USDA predicted that about 20% of hemp samples collected in 2020 would exceed the 0.3% THC limit and need to be destroyed. The USDA rule lays out no plan to appeal testing results.

Criminals, not farmers

Robison contends that for the micro levels of THC involved with hemp production, the USDA shouldn’t have to involve drug law enforcement.

“The USDA should have the capacity to manage 1,000 parts-per-million THC,” Robison said.

The DEA should be focusing on drug criminals, not farmers, he said.

“The folks that know how to work with crops are the people that should be managing the data and working with these farmers, not a law enforcement agency charged with pursuing crystal meth and fentanyl criminals,” Robison said. “They should not be even in the same ballpark.”

Further, he continued, the U.S. Congress did not mean to scare farmers and put them on a watch list, but that’s the message the USDA rules send.

Legitimate American farmers may have been sold “bogus seeds” or seeds that tested below 0.2% THC in Europe but went hot when grown in a warmer U.S. climate, he said.

“Now, all of the sudden, because they wanted to be part of this congressionally opened-up market, why now are they in a DEA database?” Robison said.

“Congress passed a law to promote the hemp industry in the United States of America,” he said.

“The regs that just came down, the No. 1 thing that they accomplished, if I was a farmer, was to scare me and to provide me with a doubt of whether I should be entering this market until there is additional clarity about whether or not I’m committing a criminal activity.”

Laura Drotleff can be reached at [email protected]

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15 comments on “‘The DEA is mentioned 42 times’: Hemp industry disturbed by agency’s involvement in THC testing rules
  1. denny on

    is the DEA involved in corn,cotton and soybeans , people was told hemp is out of the controlled substance act ,now you can grow hemp, i think the president or congress should step back in and solve this soon or hemp is done

    Reply
    • Ray on

      Hemp won’t be done, it will just be imported from other countries like China, Canada and Mexico while the American Farmer sits this one out. The secret of CBD is now common knowledge, no way to put that genie back into the bottle.

      It is sad that the American Government USDA, FDA, DEA And the White House is discouraging hemp farming, I guess Mitch’s hemp pen was a dud.

      Reply
  2. Tom on

    The elephant in the room (behind the scenes) is called the pharmaceutical lobby. Bigger than the oil, gas, and military industrial lobbies. If the CBD markets grow to $25 billion or more over the next decade, it will be at the expense of Big Pharma. Just sayin’…

    Reply
  3. Jose on

    The Big Pharma and the Regulators at their best !! Sad day for hepm growing farmers, this is a big set back for the industry, with this regulations who can afford to grow ! , USDA,FDA, DEA And the White House is discouraging hemp farming , this is sad.lets keep China rich!

    Reply
  4. guy on

    I see it as rather obvious, they see a lot of money and they want in… they do not however want to do any of the actual labor…. from another perspective this is close to the on going protection racket. I choose to not make it wrong, lets bide our time pay them their extortion and when the time is ripe and the players are in they’ll implode upon themselves with the rest of the uniform commercial code…so for the time being.. it is what it is… for the first time in a long time a movement of cash and character are upon us…focus on the good that is coming… an incredible array of jobs… the cat is out of the bag…

    Reply
  5. Martin Margheim on

    The DEA involvement was the first thing noticed when looking at the proposed rules. A “WTF” was the immediate reaction. The primary purpose of getting industrial hemp re-introduced via the US Agricultural Act of 2018 was to remove hemp from the DEA scheduled drug list. This observation comes from a “non-combatant” as it were. I can only imagine the reaction of anyone actively pursuing the addition of hemp growth, processing, production, distribution and so forth. Thankfully, the DEA involvement has not gone unnoticed. The DEA MUST be removed from involvement. Wheat, corn, rye and numerous other agricultural products can be turned into products and substances that can bring into play the DEA, ATF and other law enforcement agencies. However, an agricultural product grown and used as specifically intended should not require oversight by the DEA.

    Reply
    • Greg Bayne on

      AMEN! If the intent is to improve the Life of the common man/ woman, then STOP with the criminalization of farmers growing hemp with micro amounts (less than 1%) of thc!
      The cbd:thc ratio is a much more accurate indication of weather someone is growing hemp or marijuana! ???

      Reply
  6. hempman on

    I call this type of business gambling. Not only could you lose a crop, plus your time, but you might get to stay awhile with Bubba at the Bendover Inn.

    Reply
  7. Shiva Kumar on

    Its the good and the bad. Farmers especially who have been hit by TARIFFS, Trade wars, Floods, Exports are still living with that hope that HEMP might just be the crop that could save them and restart their livelihood. HEMP is back and it does not make sense to put in regulations so hard that the very existence of this industry becomes a nightmare for especially Farmers to be able to harvest and send them to these specific labs that the DEA recommends. Resulting in a potential risk that during the transformation it just might turn into a Hot yield. I feel there is a potential for a lot of lawsuits in 2020.

    Reply
  8. Mark on

    Hemp is defined arbitrarily as cannabis measuring less then 0.3% THC. I believe originally the type of that THC was not defined. The USDA provisional rule defines the measure of THC post decarboxilation. This procedure combines the d9 and THCa. No CBD worthy hemp plant can achieve this standard. Unless you make a GMO crop…

    Reply
  9. Christy Stanley on

    When are government workers going to stop treating business owners in both the hemp and cannabis industries like criminals?!?! The DEA’s focus needs to remain on the epidemic levels of meth, heroin and fentanyl and let the USDA inspectors handle hemp. The resources and manpower of the DEA used for policing hemp means a win for the cartel peddling deadly drugs!! Inspectors for crops; Police for criminals. Pretty simple I’d say.

    Reply
  10. George on

    Thank goodness Hemp is legal now! What only 42 times the DEA stuck it’s nose in. Can you imagine if sugar, now responsible for more harm to humans than tobacco and alcohol combined, was treated like cannabis?
    They all get you high, but only one can kill you.
    In fact if any of the top Pharma companies started selling cannabis, it would be the only drug they sell that can’t kill you.

    Reply

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