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MARIJUANA MOMENT

USDA approves first state hemp plans following crop’s federal legalization

David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP

Marijuana Moment is a wire service assembled by Tom Angell, a marijuana legalization activist and journalist covering marijuana reform nationwide. The views expressed by Angell or Marijuana Moment are neither endorsed by the Globe nor do they reflect the Globe’s views on any subject area.

The US Department of Agriculture announced Friday that it has approved hemp regulatory plans for three states and three Native American tribes — with many more approvals likely on the horizon.

After hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, the USDA got to work developing rules for growing and processing the crop, and in October, it released interim guidelines that any state or tribe must comply with.

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Louisiana, New Jersey, and Ohio — as well as the Flandreau Santee Sioux, Santa Rosa Cahuilla, and La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indian Tribes — are the first to have their plans accepted by the federal government.

This first set of approvals comes in the midst of a public comment period, which has allowed stakeholders to offer feedback on the proposed rules. The high volume of responses prompted the USDA to recently extend the comment window from the end of December to Jan. 29, 2020.

“To produce hemp, growers must be licensed or authorized under a state, tribe, or USDA production program. The program a grower is licensed under depends on the location of the hemp growing facility,” the department said in a notice. “If a state or tribe has an approved plan or is in the process of developing a plan, growers must apply and be licensed or authorized under its hemp program. If a state or tribe does not have a plan and does not intend to have a plan, growers can apply for a license from USDA.”

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The USDA is maintaining a website that tracks the status of state and tribal hemp plans, and the page shows that the department is currently reviewing 16 state and 10 tribal plans. Eight states and five tribes have notified the USDA that they’re drafting plans. Three states have indicated that they will continue to operate under a pilot program enacted under the earlier 2014 Farm Bill, and one state, Maryland, will use the department’s default hemp rules.

In its proposal, New Jersey’s agriculture department said it “is in New Jersey’s best interests to administer a program within the State to ensure the needs of local farmers and businesses are being met.” The state’s existing hemp program, which was enacted in August, “complies with the 2018 Farm Bill,” it added.

While the majority of states and tribes are moving forward with their submissions, the USDA’s rules could ultimately change given widespread input from hemp businesses and lawmakers, who’ve identified certain provisions that they feel would inhibit the industry’s growth. They’ve expressed concerns about THC limits and laboratory testing requirements, for example.

Separately, hemp farmers welcomed a recent development from the USDA, which announced this week that the crop will qualify for a new insurance pilot program for the 2020 growing season in certain states. That comes after the department said hemp could be covered under a separate insurance program, but that one does not apply to hemp cultivated for CBD oil.

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