This doesn’t bode well for regulated cannabis if and when the state allows for it. “The agency governing New York’s hemp industry “does not always follow established practices” when reviewing applications, inspecting growers and sampling the levels of the intoxicating ingredient in the cannabis plant, an audit from the state comptroller’s office found.” Reports the Times Union
The agency governing New York’s hemp industry “does not always follow established practices” when reviewing applications, inspecting growers and sampling the levels of the intoxicating ingredient in the cannabis plant, an audit from the state comptroller’s office found. Says the Times Union report
Times Union Report
According to the report from the Division of State Government Accountability under Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s office, the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets inspected only 57 percent of growers authorized to produce hemp under a state pilot program that authorizes the limited cultivation of the plant.
The trial, called the Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Pilot Program, was launched after a 2014 federal law allowed states to cultivate hemp for limited industrial purposes. Legal hemp is designated as having less than a 0.3 percent concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces a high.
Hemp is used for industrial purposes and for the production of cannabidiol (CBD), another key cannabis compound that does not cause a high but is touted for purported medical benefits.
According to the audit, which was conducted from April 2016 to May 2019, the Department of Agriculture and Markets “generally accepts most grower applications,” even applications that are incomplete or contain red flags. Ag and Markets told auditors that staffing shortages and “competing priorities” hindered the agency’s ability to inspect and sample hemp plants. Recommendations provided by the audit include improving usage and implementation of data systems and developing clear procedures for inspecting and testing growers.
In a letter responding to the audit, Ag and Markets said it agreed with the recommendations.
“The Department appreciates the work of the State Comptroller’s audit team that was conducted during the formation of the program,” First Deputy Commissioner Jen McCormick wrote.
Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday signed legislation establishing new regulations for the production and sale of hemp. The hemp industry would be required to test and label its products. Ag and Markets would supervise the growers and the state Health Department would oversee hemp extract.
Although the pilot program cited by DiNapoli’s office is expected to end in 2020, “the Department will work to implement the recommendations offered prior to its termination and anticipates that the benefits from the implemented recommendations will carry over to the State’s successor program,” McCormick said.
According to the audit, Ag and Markets tested THC samples from only 79 of the 136 active growers, or 58 percent of those authorized under the pilot program to cultivate hemp. Of the 211 plants tested, five contained more than a 0.3 percent concentration of THC, which would be illegal under federal and state law and could lead to consequences — including drug charges — for those who unwittingly possess the plant.
But only one of those samples was destroyed, the audit said. For the four other samples, Ag and Markets officials said they used “professional discretion.”
In a statement Tuesday evening, Ag and Markets spokeswoman Kirstan Conley said the department’s THC testing is accurate to less than or more than one-tenth of a percentage point.
“Both the Department and the USDA require a high degree of certainty that the THC level is above the 0.3% limit before we take regulatory action and a crop is destroyed,” Conley said. “In all but one instance, the test revealed the crop to be within that margin of error range. In one, the crop tested above 0.4, and the crop was destroyed.”
The audit found that the sampling process took an average of nearly 50 days for the plants exceeding the THC limits. The report also said officials didn’t follow a draft policy for quarantining and disposing of non-compliant samples.
Another issue brought up in the audit: Ag and Markets accepts “most” grower applications, even if they are incomplete.
“Therefore, we question whether all growers should have been authorized under Program guidelines,” the report said.
The audit found eight applications that were not dated, five of which were also missing the grower’s signature. One application said the hemp would be used to “test this in the daily lives of veterans that have the effects of war that cause them pain every day,” which is not authorized under the test program’s guidelines.
One affiliate grower’s application was also seemingly missing, the audit said.
In the letter to Ag and Markets, McCormick noted that the number of growers has increased exponentially since the audit’s conclusion; there were 419 in the state as of July 2019.
“The Department has continuously enhanced its policies, procedures and practices as the Department learns from the research of its partners … and will continue to do so in order to ensure effective oversight and monitoring,” McCormick wrote.