USDA: National THC test for hemp ‘as challenging as you think it is’

Federal agriculture authorities are struggling to craft a nationwide THC testing standard so that state and local regulators can tell hemp from marijuana, complicating the release of standardized production rules, according to an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

William Richmond

William Richmond, head of the Specialty Crops Program in the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, told a group of dietary-supplement and CBD business owners last week the agency hoped to have hemp rules prepared by now.

But he said the agency is grappling with the Farm Bill‘s requirement for a national THC testing protocol “using post-decarboxylation or other similarly reliable methods.”

“We need to have testing procedures in place,” he said. Coming up with reliable testing methods, he added, is “as complicated as you think it is.”

Richmond gave no timeline for the USDA finishing its work, but he said after his speech the USDA still plans to have rules done in time for the 2020 growing season.

The USDA has been “bombarded with questions” about hemp, he added, and is “working hard to issue the hemp regulations.”

He reminded the CBD companies that the USDA’s hemp regulations won’t be final until the industry has had an opportunity to see them and share feedback.

“Tell us what we got right – and, more important, tell us what we got wrong, because we have the opportunity to fix it,” Richmond said.

Which THC?

THC testing has proved a major challenge in moving the hemp industry to a standardized commodity.

Law enforcement authorities from Texas to Florida have said they don’t have tests that can differentiate between legal hemp and illegal marijuana, and the patchwork of testing standards is complicating the Farm Bill’s goal of allowing nationwide commerce for the new crop.

“What we grow in Oregon needs to be able to go to Colorado, to Kentucky, to whatever state and not run into issues with law enforcement,” said Sunny Summers, who coordinates hemp policy for the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

She also said during her talk at a CBD conference in Denver sponsored by the American Herbal Products Association that THC testing is “a big, big situation that as an industry we need to deal with.”

The Farm Bill’s direction, she said, doesn’t tell states how to prepare tests “using post-decarboxylation or other similarly reliable methods.”

“This is the No. 1 issue that I have – what the heck does that mean?” Summers said. “What is THC? Which version?”

Industry fears

Matt Cyrus

THC testing protocols coming from the USDA could dramatically shake up the growing hemp industry, growers say.

That’s because most U.S. hemp farmers are producing cultivars rich in cannabinoids other than THC – the same types of hemp most likely to violate THC limits depending how and when they are tested.

If post-decarboxylized tests are used, “most of the cultivars and most of the varieties that we’re currently using in the U.S. would no longer be defined as hemp,” said Matt Cyrus, who raises hemp along with hay and cattle in Sisters, Oregon.

Cyrus told Hemp Industry Daily that the USDA’s looming hemp rules could throw many entrepreneurs back to the black market, depending on the testing standard.

“In theory, everybody who has hemp biomass on hand anywhere in the U.S. … would suddenly be outside the law,” said Cyrus, who is also president of the Deschutes County (Oregon) Farm Bureau.

USDA wants to make it easy

Richmond of the USDA told dietary supplement manufacturers that the agency understands how complex it is to set a national THC testing standard, but he promised that federal authorities are scrambling to give farmers and state and local regulators a solution that simplifies interstate hemp commerce.

“Our goal is to provide a consistent, easy-to-follow regulatory framework around hemp production,” he said.

“I can’t speak to whether that means a hard, prescriptive set of requirements for everybody at this stage. But our goal is to provide consistent standards that make sense for growers and for the industry.”

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11 comments on “USDA: National THC test for hemp ‘as challenging as you think it is’
  1. ET on

    The solution is simple: use HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) and not GC (gas chromatography) as the unified standard equipment required for testing of all cannabis. Prohibitionists have shown their colors by choosing to weaponize GC as a testing equipment standard in order to alter (decarboxylate via heat created through gas chromatography) Tetrahydrocannabinolic-acid into Delta?-tetrahydrocannabinol (the erroneously vilified cannabiniod). The hemp language found within the farm bill does not state decarboxylated THC or “total” THC; it states delta?-tetrahydrocannabinol equal to or less than .3% by weight, measured from dry (flower) material. This has an exact meaning of .3% or less Delta?-THC by dry weight.

    HPLC has been the standard testing machine/device used by the (West coast) cannabis industry for many years. With that said: I can find dozens of cannabis flower tests via a simple Google search that were tested using HPLC. These lab tests list THC-a percentages of 15-30+% while listing d?THC percentages of .01-.3% (decarboxylated within the plant/naturally synthesized). Therein lies the problem: the hemp language within the Farm Bill could be construed as to have made high resin content cannabis…legal. I will not get into the mechanisms or processes for cultivating/harvesting/drying/curing, such as date to harvest for lower THCa and THC percentages, here. I imagine that the several States will decide what they will allow/require/hand down (like it is the 11th commandment from God) for testing requirements. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) has concluded and thereby recommended that the unified standard be GC. This will create great confusion, greater so when a State has medicinal or recreational cannabis legalization in effect and farmers choosing to produce high resin content “hemp” (ie. high CBD cultivars/genotypes) with separate testing method requirements for each form of cannabis (HPLC: “marijuana” versus GC: “hemp”). However, I believe the States that choose HPLC will become centers for hemp production and processing for this rapidly emerging industry, while States that choose GC will be left in the dust.

    The problem that needs to be addressed/elephant in the room: interstate commerce. How do alcohol product distributors transport those products through “dry” districts or municipalities? I am certain that litigation and legal precedent has been determined for the aforementioned situation; perhaps this is were the answer may be found.

    In the end, I am extremely troubled by Government overreach both past and present, determined to take inalienable rights from the people. For the first time in our known history we have the ability to garner knowledge and develop critical thoughts instantaneously via the internet of things. Due to this accessibility and by the ability of humankind to conceptualize a better world with greater freedoms: the drum beat of liberty can now be heard, worldwide. The ability of an individual to create food, clothing, shelter, medicine etc. from a seed bearing plant and thereby pursue life, liberty, and happiness, is without question our birthright. It is interesting that cannabis freedoms as a human right may be a great victory won by the people. These effects could create a chain reaction of greater individual freedoms being the consequence.

  2. Jake on

    Rocky Mountain high brands out of Dallas TX has a test in place already also freedom leaf has testing capabilities to tell hemp THC levels. It would benefit the USDA to talk them.

  3. dk on

    The 2018 Farm Bill requires state plans to test THC post-decarboxylation or similar AND requires that USDA approves state plans. So, by the transitive property, the 2018 Farm Bill requires testing post-decarboxylation.

  4. ET on

    Not necessarily dk:
    ‘‘(2) CONTENTS.—A State or Tribal plan referred to in para-
    graph (1)—
    ‘‘(A) shall only be required to include—
    ….”(ii) a procedure for testing, using post-
    decarboxylation or other similarly reliable methods,
    delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration levels of
    hemp produced in the State or territory of the Indian
    …”other reliable methods”…
    This is where the confusion lies. As I stated prior: States that choose to test cannabis using HPLC will be much more attractive for farmers/processors etc. to operate due to the likelyhood of not testing hot for delta-9 thc. To add: when a State has an approved method of testing in place for recreational or medicinal cannabis, with HPLC being the State approved standard testing equipment; will those State Ag departments require GC for hemp only?….I doubt it. It is very likely that the current licensed labs providing testing for the aforementioned, whom all use HPLC, will also be the test centers for hemp. Unless however the Department’s choose to magically find funding to test the material themselves using GC…perhaps federal funding for State Universities to test using GC… laughable as those institutions also use HPLC or newer methods these days. In addition as a matter of law: using gas chromatography alters evidence by way of conversion of a chemical substance under lawful scrutiny to a completely different chemical substance. Having the courage (and money) to challenge government on that basis while relying on education of jurors during trial is the issue and has been the issue when it comes to such matters.
    Either way, with the death throws of prohibition evident and for those who choose to believe reefer madness and all of the many lies and propaganda spewed therein, of whom also believe it to be OK to limit inalienable rights of others for what most commonly seems to be…their amusement or personal gain…is highly entertaining to observe. Those individuals ought to buckle in for a wild ride…the masses will not stand for the oath breaking and clear breaches of social contract for much longer.

  5. Robert on

    I spoke with Patty Bennett with the USDA – she said THCa matters.

    Look our smokable flower farmers – you’re about to get sh*twhipped.

  6. thomas bobrowicz on

    PA accepts the HPLC method but requires the .877 x THCA plus delta 9 formula be used to calculate total thc. I have a strain that came in at .05% delta 9 and .28%thca which equals .34% total and the state would reject it. Not happy

  7. ET on

    Thomas: the math you used is incorrect.

    If .28 THCa x .877 = .246% + .05% d9THC = .29956% “total THC”…you would be OK, even if rounding up to .3% for that particular strain.

    If you are testing as of now and plan on testing weekly from now until you harvest, memorize this formula:

    THCa % x .877 = X.XX% + THC % of X.XX% = X.XX% “total THC” or total potential delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol.

    If your crop is at .25% total THC based on the aforementioned formula at the time you receive your results (you should get your results 2-3 days after submitting your sample…possibly longer if you live in a State that does not have an adequate number of certified labs) you should immediately begin harvest. However, due to lag time for receipt of you labs…your crop may already be to hot once you have fully completed harvest.

    For those of you that are not testing on a weekly basis as of today; I hope you are prepared to deal with the ramifications of not doing so.

  8. monica on

    Why bother with it? Take Marijuana off the Control Substance List, period. Alcohol is legal and it should be controlled so we won’t have alcoholism, accidents from drinking and driving, etc. etc.

    Why is it illegal in the first place?


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