States Split on Following USDA Hemp Rules in 2020

States Split on Following USDA Hemp Rules in 2020

More states have declared that they’re going to stick with their own rules for the 2020 hemp production season, rather than follow federal guidelines on the new crop.

To date, 20 states have said they will follow the 2014 pilot rules this growing season, outnumbering the 12 that have so far received U.S. Department of Agriculture approval for their production plans under the interim final rule.

The result is that the nation will again see a patchwork of varying hemp production guidelines in 2020, despite federal efforts to streamline hemp regulations to mirror other commodity crops.

The USDA has also approved hemp production plans for 14 American Indian tribes and currently has 15 tribal plans and nine state plans under review. Five more states are working on a plan for USDA review, according to the agency.

States choosing pilot rules

Since early February, when Hemp Industry Daily reported that 14 states extended their current program rules into the 2020 production season, six more states have declared the same intent to the USDA, including Alabama, Alaska, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia.

Sunny Summers, cannabis policy coordinator for the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), said in late February that the state had received three times the number of hemp production applications as it had at the same time last year, according to the Capital Press of Salem Oregon.

Oregon, she said, asked the USDA for more flexibility in the federal hemp rules.

Late last month, a panel of Southern state hemp production program regulators explained during the Industrial Hemp Summit in Danville, Virginia, why they extended their respective 2014 pilot rules.

A Virginia official explained that the state would stick with its own rules and advised hemp farmers to go ahead and apply for licenses – with a warning that they would be notified if the rules change under the 2018 Farm Bill.

“We are right now in a period of reviewing the comments and feedback we received from USDA and considering what amendments are necessary for our plan to move forward,” said Erin Williams of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

In neighboring North Carolina, regulators say their sizable hemp production program and current legislation underway within the state would make it hard to implement the USDA interim final rule in 2020.

“We believe that it’d be difficult at this stage in the game to try to implement the USDA rule,” said Paul Adams from the North Carolina Department of Consumer Services.

“There are some legislative holdups in our state right now. We we are working on drafting a program, but it remains to be seen whether or not we will be submitting that.”

States requesting more time for pilot

States have cited numerous reasons for extending their pilot programs for the 2020 season.

One of the top concerns is a set of THC sampling and testing protocols that states call laborious and expensive – even a risk to hemp farmers.

“There are 46 states where hemp is legal, and I’m going to say that every single state has raised concerns to us about something within the (USDA) rule,” said Aline DeLucia, director of public policy for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA).

“They might be coming from different perspectives, but every state has raised concerns.”

Many states have requested that the USDA extend the pilot from its Oct. 31 expiration through Dec. 31. That would allow producers to start and end the year operating under the same rules.

NASDA members adopted a policy item calling for extending the mandatory date of Oct. 31 for states to change from 2014 pilot programs to approved USDA plans.

“With the vast majority of states needing to call on their state legislatures to be in compliance with the rule, we need more time to stand up regulations that support the growth of our hemp industry,” NASDA CEO Barb Glenn said in a statement released by the association.

“States are doing what they can with limited resources to ensure regulatory compliance,” Glenn said.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said during a U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee hearing earlier this month that he had hoped to have more states approved under the federal rules for the 2020 season but understood why they opted to continue their 2014 pilot programs.

During that hearing, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, asked Perdue to clarify whether the interim final rule was a draft plan or a final plan.

Merkley pointed out that the distinction matters because states can operate under the 2014 pilot rules for only one year after the federal hemp rules are final.

Perdue said he “would functionally say it’s a draft plan, as this is a very unique crop,” and that he’ll be “as flexible as the law allows” if his agency can’t resolve state concerns about the federal rule by the 2021 growing season.

Federally approved plans march forward

Despite the continued state-by-state patchwork of rules, the USDA continues to review state and tribal plans submitted for approval for the 2020 hemp production season under the interim final rules based on the 2018 Farm Bill.

In the past month, the agency has approved plans for:

One of those states, Montana, said that despite winning USDA hemp approval, it plans to operate under the 2014 pilot program for the 2020 season.

Changes from Pennsylvania’s 2020 plan include mandatory permits for processors, fee changes and new restrictions for hemp production and processing properties.

And another recent federal entrant, Georgia, said it will start taking applications later this month despite not yet settling how it plans to pay for its hemp program.

Iowa, the latest state to receive the green light for its program, needed federal approval to move forward with hemp production because it didn’t previously operate a state pilot.

Laura Drotleff can be reached at This story originally appeared at Hemp Industry Daily.

Coronavirus Crisis Shows Marijuana Is ‘Essential’ And Mainstream

Coronavirus Crisis Shows Marijuana Is ‘Essential’ And Mainstream

Never has it been more clear than during the current COVID-19 pandemic that marijuana has arrived at the forefront of mainstream American society.

In state after state, governors and public health officials are deeming cannabis businesses “essential” operations that can stay open amid coronavirus-related forced closures and stay-at-home mandates. People might not be able to go bowling or see a movie in theaters, but they can still stock up on marijuana.

It wasn’t long ago that anyone growing and selling marijuana faced the risk of being arrested, prosecuted and jailed. But now, in the era of expanding legalization, cannabis providers in many states are held up as vital members of the community who are providing a valuable service on par with picking up prescription drugs at a pharmacy or filling up your car at a gas station.

Advocacy groups have pushed governors and state officials to ensure that medical marijuana patients in particular can maintain access to the cannabis they need. But because many people who use marijuana for therapeutic purposes don’t necessarily jump through the hoops needed in order to become officially certified as patients, recreational businesses are also seen as crucial access points that need to stay open.

“Most of the American public and an increasing number of government leaders stopped buying into the demonization of cannabis years ago,” Karen O’Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “Now, not only have two-thirds of states recognized that medical cannabis should be legal—with 11 legalizing adult-use—many are recognizing that safe access to cannabis is essential.”

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said it is “encouraging to see our nation’s public policy in practice is finally catching up to where the vast majority of Americans have been for years.”

“The recognition by our government officials that cannabis is indeed not just here to stay, but an essential part of life for millions of Americans—particularly in the patient community—is a welcome move in the right direction,” he said. “It is also a move that could not have come at a better moment for those who still require access to maintain quality of life during these trying and troubled times.”

In some states, officials have enacted new temporary policies such as expanded delivery services or curbside pickup that make it easier for consumers to get their hands on marijuana while respecting social distancing measures. Others are allowing doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations via telemedicine instead of requiring that they conduct in-person examinations.

Here’s a look at how states that are taking steps to maintain legal marijuana access during the COVID-19 outbreak:


Regulators deemed cannabis retail outlets to be essential businesses that can stay open amid a broader stay-at-home order. Localities, including Los Angeles County and San Francisco, have also said that certain cannabis businesses are essential providers that can continue operations.


Gov. Jared Polis (D) issued an executive order allowing marijuana businesses to provide curbside pickup services and letting doctors issue medical cannabis recommendations via telemedicine without in-person examinations. A subsequent order from the governor says that marijuana businesses are critical retail operations, but only for the sale of medical cannabis or curbside delivery. Regulators also issued emergency rules temporarily loosening requirements for fingerprinting of marijuana business owners, modification of premises and transfer of cannabis product samples for testing.


Regulators deemed medical cannabis businesses to be essential and thus exempt from a general mandate to suspend in-person operations.


The state surgeon general issued an order allowing physicians to issue medical cannabis recertifications to existing patients—but not new ones—via telemedicine.


Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s (D) stay-at-home order declares marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities to be essential businesses that can stay open. Dispensaries are also being allowed to do curbside sales of medical cannabis—but not recreational marijuana—products.


Medical cannabis growers, processors and dispensaries. are exempt from an order Gov. Larry Hogan (R) issued to close non-essential businesses. Regulators are also allowing dispensaries to deliver medical marijuana to patients in parking lots.


Gov. Charlie Baker (R) issued a stay-at-home order deeming medical cannabis businesses—but not recreational marijuana ones—to be essential and exempt from a general shutdown. Regulators also encouraged medical cannabis delivery services to promote and expand their offerings, and are allowing doctors to remotely recommend marijuana to patients through the use of telehealth waivers.


Marijuana businesses will be able to continue curbside sales and home deliveries but cannot perform in-person transactions in stores under a stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). Regulators previously sent a bulletin allowing curbside pickup and encouraging delivery services, and another bulletin extending the period of prequalification status for marijuana business license applicants that may experience building delays.

New Hampshire

Regulators are allowing medical cannabis patients to do curbside pickup at dispensaries and are letting doctors issue recommendations via telemedicine.

New Jersey

Gov. Phil Murphy (D) exempted medical cannabis dispensaries from a stay-at-home order. Regulators moved to allow patients pick up medical marijuana at dispensaries’ curbsides and to reduce caregiver registration fees.

New Mexico

Regulators ruled that medical cannabis businesses are essential and can stay open. They also allowed curbside pickup services, extended expiring patient and caregiver cards for 90 days and suspended background checks for new industry employees.

New York

The state Department of Health deemed that medical cannabis providers are essential businesses not subject to a general closure order. Those that are authorized to carry out home delivery are temporarily allowed to expand those services without written approval.


Gov. Mike DeWine’s (R) stay-at-home order exempts medical cannabis businesses from a broader business shutdown. The State Medical Board also moved to allow doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations via telemedicine without meeting patients in person. Additionally, regulators are letting patients phone in orders ahead of their arrival at dispensaries to reduce time spent inside.


Regulators approved rules to allow curbside delivery of marijuana at licensed retail locations and to increase medical cannabis sales limits. They also moved to make it easier to obtain cannabis worker permits.


Regulators deemed medical cannabis providers as “life-sustaining” operations that are exempt from Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) order to close businesses in general. They also took other steps, including allowing patients to have marijuana brought to their cars outside of dispensaries and letting caregivers make deliveries to an unlimited number of patients.

Washington State

Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) stay-at-home order exempts marijuana businesses as essential, allowing them to stay open. And regulators are allowing marijuana dispensaries to carry out curbside service for medical cannabis patients.

Despite the significant number of states deeming cannabis businesses to be essential and issuing rulings temporarily expanding their services, that is not the case in every legal marijuana market.

In Nevada, for example, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) and regulators are mandating that all sales be done via delivery, effectively shuttering businesses that only have storefront operations.

And despite the accommodations, many regulators are also directing businesses to implement social distancing measures such as limits on the number of customers who can enter a retail operation at a given time or guidance on physical space between those who are standing in line—changes that can slow down operations and reduce revenue.

Still, many industry leaders seems to understand the public health necessity of such moves, and cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, for example, issued a set of suggested voluntary guidelines for marijuana businesses to consider.

For now, industry trackers have indicated that sales are strong as consumers stock up in preparation to hunker down at home for several weeks.

Nonetheless, the industry has called on Congress to give it equal access to disaster relief funds—a request necessitated by the fact that ongoing federal prohibition means that their operations are still illegal and not generally eligible for such aid.

Legalization opponents, meanwhile, are not pleased with moves by a growing number of states to keep cannabis stores in business despite the steps intended to foster social distancing at such locations.

“We have seen numerous reports of marijuana stores with long lines of people stocking up on the drug and have additionally seen states move to keep these stores open,” Kevin Sabet, president of prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said. “Quite frankly, this presents a unique harm to public health and safety. Across the country, states are doing everything in their power to limit the gathering of people in one location. Long lines outside of establishments engaged in the distribution of marijuana should be a tremendous cause for concern.”

When it comes to consumers, while advocates have cautioned them to consider refraining from smoking or vaping for the time being due to the risk of agitating lungs amid the respiratory effects of the novel coronavirus, they have also pointed out that there are other ways to use cannabis, such as edibles.

For now, the coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the disconnect between federal and state policies: Under one set of laws cannabis is a banned drug, and under the other it’s a medicine deemed just as essential as any other.

This story first appeared at Forbes. Tom Angell is a 20-year veteran of the cannabis law reform movement, and I know where to look to spot the most interesting legalization developments. I’m the editor of the cannabis news site Marijuana Moment, and I founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority.

Cannabis is from seeds, drugs are from Big Pharma.

Cannabis is from seeds, drugs are from Big Pharma.

By characterizing THC/Cannabis as “harmful,” and maintaining control over this unique & essential natural resource, is wrong on every level. This precious resource has been manipulated by people who seek profit from the fear & pain of others.

Drugs don’t make seeds. Herbs do. Cannabis is from seeds, drugs are from Big Pharma. The drug treaties & drug laws we were all born into have always been “void for vagueness.”

It all began with maintaining the Great Lie of 1937 (that THC is “dangerous”), rather than admitting it is essential for optimum health, does several things, none of them good.

First, it attempts to justify the wrongful jurisdiction of unobjective courts, who profit from Cannabis prohibition in many ways.

Secondly, by claiming jurisdiction over an “herb bearing seed” the gods-given sanctity of Nature is subjugated by institutional disregard. Sincere respect for Natural systems & relationships, that predate mankind, are rendered legally inconsequential, to the detriment of human social evolution and global environmental integrity.

Finally, by exerting fees, taxes, financial burdens & punishments on the multi-billion dollar “marijuana” industry, institutional control of the multi-trillion dollar “industrial hemp” industry is maintained by the same people & politically powerful corporations presently vested in fossil fuels & nuclear energy.

Now that Cannabis has been revealed as essential to optimum human health, proper physical development, and sustainable existence on this planet, there is zero logic in perpetuating obsolete values imposed two generations ago, which have no bearing on today’s stark reality.

Extinction is in our proximate future unless Cannabis is recognized as mankind’s functional interface with the Natural Order. Anything less is just a tragic waste of time, for which our children will suffer the worst.

USDA Drops DEA Hemp Testing Requirement for 2020, While FDA Acknowledges Demand for CBD

USDA Drops DEA Hemp Testing Requirement for 2020, While FDA Acknowledges Demand for CBD

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.

This story first appeared at Hemp Industry Daily.



The deadline for submitting public comments on USDA’s Interim Final Rule on Domestic Hemp Production is on January 29th, 2020, at 11:59pm ET.

Comments may be submitted online at and may either be uploaded to the site as a PDF or Word file, or copied and pasted into the text window provided on the site.

So far only about 2113 comments have been submitted! It is critical that the Department receive as many unique and substantive comments as possible. 

PUBLIC COMMENTS MATTER!  Even though the interim rule has already been made effective, USDA must still finalize it before it becomes permanent, and they are required to take into account—and respond to—all substantive comments submitted by the public.

Comments need not be lengthy, or beautifully written.  But in order to be taken into account, they must be substantive, unique (no form letters), and clearly state how the rule directly impacts the commenter’s personal and/or business interests.

These are the key points a comment should cover:
Identify a specific issue, topic or provision in the rule, state how it impacts you directly, and suggest an alternative that would better serve or protect your interests.

Identify credentials and experience that support your position. If you are commenting in an area in which you have relevant personal or professional experience (i.e., scientist, attorney, farmer, distributor, retailer, etc.), say so.
Support your position with specific examples from your personal experience: how does the rule impact you or your business?  What specific costs, burdens or missed opportunities result?

It certainly helps if you also have concrete information about the rule’s impacts to others in your community or field of business, but with a day left to submit it’s fine to skip the research paper and simply write from your own experience.  That is ultimately the most powerful story to tell.

Please feel free to use this cheat sheet to build your comments! 

Key Congressional Committee Officially Schedules Vote On Marijuana Legalization Bill

Key Congressional Committee Officially Schedules Vote On Marijuana Legalization Bill

A key House committee has officially announced that a vote on a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill is scheduled for this week.

The House Judiciary Committee said on Monday that the panel will mark up legislation introduced by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), which would federally deschedule cannabis and address social equity, on Wednesday at 10:00 AM ET. The announcement confirms what sources familiar with the planned development told Marijuana Moment last week.

Nadler’s Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act has been lauded by advocates for its emphasis on restorative justice for communities most impacted by the drug war.

It calls for a five percent federal tax on marijuana sales, and that revenue would be used to fund programs such as job training, legal aid for those affected by prohibition and small business loans for individuals who are socially and economically disadvantaged. The bill also seeks to lift barriers to licensing and employment in the industry.

Additionally, the legislation would expunge the records of those with prior cannabis convictions, provide for resentencing, block federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances as a result of marijuana use and protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis.

“Our marijuana laws disproportionately harm individuals and communities of color, leading to convictions that damage job prospects, access to housing, and the ability to vote.” Nadler said in a press release. “Recognizing this, many states have legalized marijuana. It’s now time for us to remove the criminal prohibitions against marijuana at the federal level. That’s why I introduced the MORE Act, legislation which would assist communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of these laws.”

Text of an amendment in the nature of a substitute from Nadler that Judiciary members will take up was also released on Monday. It includes a new “findings” section that discusses racial disparities in marijuana enforcement, the growing state-level legalization movement and the challenges that individuals from disadvantaged communities face in participating in the market.

“The communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition are benefiting the least from the legal marijuana marketplace,” one provision reads. “A legacy of racial and ethnic injustices, compounded by the disproportionate collateral consequences of 80 years of cannabis prohibition enforcement, now limits participation in the industry.”

Much of the language of the new section is borrowed from a resolution that Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, introduced last year.

“Our federal cannabis policies have been rooted in the past for far too long. As states continue to modernize how we regulate cannabis, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that our policies are fair, equitable, and inclusive,” Lee said in a press release. “I’m pleased that this critical bill includes key tenets from my own legislation to right the wrongs of the failed and racist War on Drugs by expunging criminal convictions, reinvesting in communities of color through restorative justice, and promoting equitable participation in the legal marijuana industry.”

Legalization advocates cheered the committee’s move to take the first congressional vote on ending cannabis prohibition.

“A supermajority of Americans, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, support regulating the use of marijuana by responsible adults,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “Thanks to the leadership of the House Judiciary chairman, never in history have we been closer to ending the failed policy of marijuana criminalization and providing pathways to opportunity for our brothers and sisters who have suffered under its oppressive reign.”

“The MORE Act is the most comprehensive marijuana policy reform bill ever introduced in Congress and is backed by a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups. Those who oppose this legislation moving forward are defenders of a failed status-quo that ruins the lives of otherwise law-abiding adults on a daily basis, overwhelming enforced against the poor and communities of color.”

Advocates have been eagerly awaiting a committee vote on the MORE Act, especially since the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to protect banks that service the cannabis industryin September. Some groups, including the ACLU, had implored leadership to delay the banking vote until the chamber passed legislation like the MORE Act that addresses social equity.

“The data speaks for itself—low-income communities and communities of color have disproportionately borne the brunt of the devastation brought on by marijuana prohibition,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said. “The MORE Act is the most robust bipartisan legislation so far not only to end federal marijuana prohibition, but also to ensure that the communities that have been hardest hit by prohibition are not left behind.”

“It would be a tragic mistake to have the only marijuana reform bill that passes this Congress be one that solely benefits the industry, despite both the unprecedented support for legalization nationally amongst Americans and all the harm that we know federal prohibition has caused to individuals and communities across this country,” she said. “Fortunately, by ensuring the MORE Act moves forward, several leaders in the House are showing that they understand that this is a matter of fundamental justice that the US Congress needs to address.”

Committee members on both sides of the aisle will be able to introduce amendments to the legislation, but it’s generally expected to advance out of the panel and onto the floor. That said, its fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is far from certain.

This story first appeared at