Here we are today, a little more than five years after the 2014 Farm Bill was passed, and we finally have recognition and approval by the federal government that industrial hemp is legal. Even though that’s what federal law said, that as far back as 2014, the historical weight of last week’s release of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final interim rules for domestic industrial hemp production cannot be understated. We now have a framework by which state regulators and growers can move forward with, in the years to come.

The USDA took its time—properly so—as this is a matter of first impression.  

These regulations set the foundation for what a national model hemp program (implemented state-by-state) should look like. It appears to provide the guidelines for which industrial hemp production needs to adhere: (1) standardization and stability in genetics (to protect farmers); (2) consistency in testing requirements; and, (3) agronomic guidelines.  And while the interim final rule did not go so far as requiring certified seed for all hemp growers, it does require stringent standards for “total THC,” shedding light on the federal government’s position regarding “slippery” genetics and grower’s negligence; and for the measure of uncertainty in regards to testing.

These rules from the USDA truly provide a watershed moment for the industrial hemp industry in the United States, but one thing is for sure: there will be a lot of naysayers. Seeing 160 pages of USDA regulations is not the dream of the hemp enthusiast who has been an activist for decades; although it should be. As this is a huge step forward toward securing the United States and its place as the center of the global hemp industry.

These are not rules for maintaining the present ‘craft’ industry. These rules are about setting the table for global commerce, international trade, and commoditization. And isn’t that what we all want anyway? The direct ecological benefits of using this plant for 50,000+ uses as an industrial agricultural commodity on a global scale is what will truly save the world.  What did Jack Herer say again? “I don’t know if hemp is going to save the world, but it’s the only thing that can.” That’s what these regulations truly represent.

I encourage you to make your voice heard by participating in the public comment period that lasts until December 30th. And I encourage anyone who is looking for guidance on how these USDA regulations affect your business plan for 2020 (and beyond) to connect with Hoban Law Group’s hemp regulatory team.  At the end of the day, these regulations are not perfect, but no great revolution has ever take shape via immediate perfection – it is simply the first mainstream pathway toward mainstreaming hemp; it is a road, no simple highway.