USDA drops DEA hemp testing requirement for 2020, while FDA acknowledges demand for CBD

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue addresses the nation's state agriculture departments on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020 (Photo courtesy USDA)

(This story has been updated with final changes and additional industry reaction.)

Federal agriculture officials will delay the requirement that all THC testing on hemp crops must be performed at laboratories registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

And food and drug regulators say it’s a “fool’s errand” to get people to stop taking over-the-counter CBD.

The testing delay comes after farmers and states alike complained there wouldn’t be enough DEA labs to handle demand. The U.S. Department of Agriculture acknowledges the complaints in an update Thursday.

“We now better understand how the limited number of DEA-registered labs will hinder testing and better understand the associated costs with disposing of product that contains over 0.3% THC could make entering the hemp market too risky,” USDA wrote.

“We were able to reach an agreement (with DEA) that we are going to be able to provide some relief from the laboratory certification process for this crop year,” Greg Ibach, undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told members at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) meeting this week in Arlington, Virginia.

“DEA will still expect states to work with their laboratories to try to achieve certification for the 2021 crop year,” he added.

Hemp entrepreneurs cheered the delay.

“This about-face by the USDA means that farmers can continue to use their trusted local and regional analytical testing labs to ensure compliance with USDA rules,” Josh Schneider, CEO of San Diego-based young plant producer Cultivaris Hemp, told Hemp Industry Daily.

“Getting rid of this ridiculous DEA testing requirement is a step in the right direction by the USDA,” he added. “Hopefully this means that the USDA has come to their senses and will be making better and smarter rules going forward.”

FDA changes?

Also this week, Dr. Stephen Hahn, the newly appointed commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, acknowledged that American consumers want CBD.

He said Wednesday that the agency is working to move forward with regulations.

“We’re not going to be able to say you can’t use these products. It’s a fool’s errand to even approach that,” Hahn said told NASDA attendees.

“We have to be open to the fact that there might be some value to these products, and certainly Americans think that’s the case. But we want to get them information to make the right decisions.”

The FDA developed a working group after a public meeting and comment period to gather industry input about CBD, but the agency said in November that it had not yet seen enough scientific studies or data to allow it to recognize CBD or products containing cannabidiol as generally recognized as safe.

FDA has not provided a timeline for when it will release guidance on CBD regulation.

Widespread opposition

The USDA received more than 4,700 comments about its hemp rules, Ibach told NASDA members.

Many of the comments took issue with the DEA testing requirement.

There are 47 laboratories currently registered with the DEA, and many states do not have a registered testing facility, which would require state, tribal and federal law enforcement agents responsible for testing hemp crops to send samples from out of state within a tight, 15-day testing window.

Not all hemp advocates were satisfied by the testing delay. Eric Steenstra of advocacy group Vote Hemp pointed out that the delay won’t help producers after this year.

“This will help for the season but is not what we wanted or needed for the industry to be successful,” Steenstra wrote on Twitter.

Other changes

The USDA also delayed enforcement of the requirement that producers use a DEA-registered reverse distributor or law enforcement to dispose of non-compliant plants and allow producers to use on-farm practices to dispose of hot hemp crops to render them non-retrievable or non-ingestible.

Hemp farmers are required to document and report the disposal of all non-compliant plants by providing USDA with a completed disposal form, according to the agency. Examples of disposal practices and outcomes are pictured on the agency’s website.

William Richmond, director of the USDA’s Domestic Hemp Production program, told farmers at the Industrial Hemp Summit in Virginia on Monday that testing and sampling requirements were among the aspects the agency could change.

Other parts of the rule, such as a 0.3% total THC limit and the requirement for information sharing, can be changed only by the U.S. Congress, Richmond said.

Richmond reiterated on Monday that the USDA will open another public comment period in the fall to gather industry input on the 2020 production season.

Laura Drotleff can be reached at [email protected]

14 comments on “USDA drops DEA hemp testing requirement for 2020, while FDA acknowledges demand for CBD
  1. Pat Jack on

    Dr. Mike Strain, Louisiana’s Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Forestry personally walked the paperwork for the first stages of achieving DEA registered status for the LDAF labs to the appropriate offices. He and his team spent a significant amount of time and effort insuring that Louisiana would have a DEA registered lab to serve the hemp industry. All that work for nothing, wasted tax dollars and most importantly team resources and time, and then the stress on the team at LDAF. Key members of the LDAF team have already been assigned specifically to transform the LDAF laboratories into a DEA registered lab.

    When government can’t get on the same page … with government … it leaves little confidence that they can do anything except throw a giant wrench into anything they touch.

    We should expect this at every step of the regulatory game. Be flexible, stay lean, and get a compliance officer for your company.

    Reply
    • Jackie Petzold on

      Pat Jack, did you see the article title has been updated to include the words “in 2020”? The article has also been updated at least once and is going to be updated again. Talk about confusing information. Hopefully all the work put in to get the DEA registration for 2020 you commented on can carry over to 2021. #Details

      Reply
    • Pete on

      “When government can’t get on the same page … with government … it leaves little confidence that they can do anything except throw a giant wrench into anything they touch.”

      But make no mistake. The entire purpose of this administration was to “deconstruct the administrative state”, IOW, to throw a monkey wrench into the workings of government, especially anything bearing the scent of Obama. The current display of incompetence and chaos by government agencies is no accident. That’s precisely what Trump was elected to do and it’s what his gang of saboteurs has been doing since day one.

      Government can indeed accomplish great things, but only a government that hasn’t been taken over by loyalists, cronies, incompetents and saboteurs who don’t believe government has any legitimate role in society beyond waging wars and imprisoning people.

      Look who populates our government and regulatory institutions nowadays. Take the time to research the backgrounds of these people. Agencies are run by “Acting” heads, appointed for the sole reason that they’re loyal to the president, can be fired at will and don’t require confirmation. In this administration, competence, science, expertise and experience are all held in contempt and tossed out the window in favor of the one thing that matters, unwavering fealty to King Donnie of Graft.

      So what, exactly, did you expect from a gov’t run by people who don’t believe in, and no nothing about, governance?

      You got exactly the anti-government government you voted for.
      Suck it up.
      With Coronavirus on the march, the biggest show is yet to come.

      Reply
  2. Mike carpenter on

    How could we not legalize CBD when they are going to legalize marijuana. Doesn’t make any sense since CBD doesn’t alter your mind like marijuana and alcohol. Set limits and make this legal already.

    Reply
  3. Gerry Hazelton on

    My wife and I have been using CBD, daily, for 11 years now, way before it became popularized. We use it for sleep, muscle aches, even give it to our two Jack Russell Terriers who are both older than 15 years and HAVE NO problems running, jumping, etc.

    We love CBD so much so we started our own company: Encinitas Hemp, Inc. Our brand is called: MedJoy. We’ve been in business now for over 3 years.

    From what we have seen, heard and experienced ourselves CBD is safe. Albeit we haven’t done laboratory studies on it we have received nothing but positive results from ourselves, our dogs, and over 300 of our clients who buy from us.

    In my opinion, and I’m hoping I’m wrong, is the FDA is trying to give Big Pharma ample time to get a good grip on this industry so they can leverage their “approved pharmaceutical grade” CBD to shut down the many, many CBD companies that have formed nation wide. It’s interesting how the FDA says CBD is not safe for ingesting until further testing but here they allowed a pharmaceutical company to created a CBD prescription for seizures. And another pharmaceutical company was granted FDA approval for a CBD topical, all the while FDA is telling of us that’s it’s illegal to do the same.

    FDA needs to stop dragging their heels, and start paving the way for federal legalization of CBD.

    Reply
    • Gabby on

      FDA is up to their eyeballs in politics. Just look at who’s running the FDA. It’s all about shutting out small businesses that will break under the many restrictions and requirements. They can’t make profit anymore.

      Reply
    • Pete on

      Now you know what the vaping industry has been putting up with for several years now. The FDA’s campaign of misinformation and disinformation in service to PHARMA isn’t limited to only those products that threaten their allies in the war on inexpensive, non-prescription nicotine. Any industry that gets in the way of their corporate sponsors’ profits will be crushed in its infancy.

      When they came for the vapers, I said nothing…….

      Reply
  4. Jackie Petzold on

    How disappointing to see the article title was NOT accurate. The word “drops” and “delayed” are two entirely different things. As you read the story you will now see the following… (This story has been updated to add more details about the changes and add reaction from disappointed advocates.) WHY didn’t the title of the article change? Disappointed

    Reply
    • Kristen Nichols on

      Jackie:
      The headline was updated to add the requirement is dropped for 2020.

      We note that Ibach did not say that the requirement will be in effect for 2021, just that states will be expected to get their labs certified by DEA next year, something not in USDA’s control. We will be watching the full statement by USDA closely to see what exactly was changed and whether the agency would need to change its rules again in 2021 to revive the DEA language.

      Thanks for reading!
      -Kristen Nichols

      Reply
  5. Josh Schneider on

    Breaking news is fluid. This article was accurate. The statement that the DEA lab testing requirement was dropped is accurate. Period. Whether the DEA is allowed to insert their jackbooted clod-hopper back into the hemp market in 2021 is an unknown. That will depend on several facts not yet in evidence. Currently hemp cultivation is operating under the jurisdiction of an INTERIM FINAL RULE (IFR) which is – by definition – NOT final. Three weeks ago the USDA said that they would make no changes to the rule for the 2020 season and that the industry just had to suck it up and cope! Then suddenly changes are possible and indeed being implemented (though unclear whether this will be published in the federal register).
    That the USDA’s process, rules and implementation are moving targets and as clear as mud is not the fault of the fine farmers who are trying to navigate the silly rules or the hard-working reporters trying to understand and report on an ethically- and logically-compromised process.
    The DEA was never meant to be involved in hemp and neither the USDA, nor Congress intended them to be.
    The idea that fewer than 100 labs could handle the testing for thousands of farmers during the short harvest is only something no right-thinking person with even a minimal grasp of basic arithmetic could believe. The thousands of labs testing this past year were completely overwhelmed during the harvest and their delays caused several farmers I know to go “hot” while awaiting results and receive a destruction order on their crops. A travesty. The USDA is finally moving in the right direction. I suggest that we channel our displeasure with the wrong-headed laws into pressing our actual “lawmakers” into doing their jobs and passing sensible rules rather than carping about a headline on a breaking news story.

    Reply
  6. Mark on

    If you want something convoluted and bogged down with senseless policies please get the government involved as much as possible.
    All forms of cannabis should be available for use by any adult for whatever reason they choose. This is freedom.

    Reply

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