Hemp farmers have been waiting for official federal guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for growing hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill. File photo by Paul Brinkmann/UPI
Sept. 16 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has completed a long-awaited draft of federal regulations for the cultivation of hemp and submitted them to President Donald Trump's White House Office of Management and Budget for approval.
The USDA has up to a year to finalize the regulations, but the agency recognized that states and farmers around the country are anxious for the new rules to help guide the 2020 growing season. The agency earlier had promised to present the rules by August.
The new regulations are expected to clarify changes passed in December 2018 in the U.S. Farm Bill. Currently, most state hemp growing pilot programs are operating under rules passed in the 2014 Farm Bill.
The new 2018 Farm Bill rules are expected to provide clarity on the legal definition of hemp, a cousin of federally prohibited marijuana, and reinforce that hemp was removed by the Drug Enforcement Administration from the controlled substances list.
The new rules also are expected to designate hemp as a commodity crop and allow for tribal councils and U.S. territories to participate in the growing program.
The OMB has scheduled meetings to receive initial public comments on the regulations.
Geoff Whaling, chair of the Washington, D.C.-based National Hemp Association, predicted the rules would be released "in a matter of weeks."
Members of the hemp industry then will be invited to provide feedback, after which the rules are to be made final.
Whaling said the agency is trying to understand issues on the national and state level that need to be ironed out.
"This crop has been absent from the U.S. landscape and legislation for 85 years. It's going to be no easy fix," he said.
In August, Bill Richmond, head of the Specialty Crops Program in the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, told those attending a conference of the American Herbal Products Association in Denver that the agency had been bombarded with questions about hemp, and that USDA was "working hard to issue the hemp regulations."
Other thorny hemp-related issues include the availability of crop insurance and banking services for farmers, interstate transportation of hemp crops, the approval of pesticides for hemp crops and the importing of hemp seeds from overseas, Whaling said.