This bill formally removed hemp plants from the nation’s list of illegal substances—so long as the plants do not have more than 0.3 percent THC.
Now, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has instituted a number of new, interim rules about hemp while more permanent rules are in the works.
Arguably one of the biggest changes introduced by the USDA’s new rules has to do with allowable levels of THC. Specifically, the new rules propose decriminalizing hemp plants with up to 0.5 percent THC.
This rule does not yet legalize such plants. But it does give farmers some breathing room by not punishing them if plants go slightly above the previous 0.3 percent threshold.
USDA’s New Hemp Rules
The USDA’s new rules were published recently in a formal draft version.
Importantly, these rules are technically interim regulations that will function until the USDA completes and implements all final hemp rules. By that time, it is possible that some of these new interim rules will be changed.
But for now, the interim rules will introduce a number of interesting changes to the nation’s hemp laws.
Under these rules, hemp farmers will not be subject to criminal punishment for plants that go slightly above the established 0.3 percent THC limit.
Instead, the USDA is proposing to give growers some wiggle room, in the form of a “measurement of uncertainty” going as high as 0.5 percent THC.
“This rule specifies that hemp producer do not commit a negligent violation if they produce plants that exceed the acceptable hemp THC level and use reasonable efforts to grow hemp and the plant does not have a THC concentration of more than 0.5 percent on a dry weight basis,” the rules state.
The rules continue: “USDA recognizes that hemp producers may take the necessary steps and precautions to produce hemp, such as using certified seed, using other seed that has reliably grown compliant plants in other parts of the country, or engaging in other best practices, yet still produce plants that exceed the acceptable hemp THC level.”
Decriminalizing, Not Legalizing
There is one important distinction in all this. Hemp plants with 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent THC are still not legal.
In fact, the guidelines require that such plants be destroyed. The only difference is what happens to the grower.
Now, farmers with crops in that range can’t be punished. But they will still lose any crop with more than 0.3 percent THC.
Public Comment Period
The guidelines are scheduled to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow. At that point, they will immediately go into effect.
Additionally, when they are published, the rules will enter a period of public comment. Specifically, the public has 60 days to comment on them.
Once the guidelines go into effect, the public will have until December 30, 2019 to file any comments.
From there, the interim rules are slated to remain effective for up to two years. During that time, the USDA is supposed to finalize all hemp rules.