Gardner Wants USDA to Slow Down on Federal Hemp Rules

Senator Cory Gardner during a 2017 town hall in Lakewood.
Brandon Marshall
Senator Cory Gardner during a 2017 town hall in Lakewood.
Colorado Senator Cory Gardner has joined a small number of congressional lawmakers in criticizing the USDA's upcoming industrial hemp rules, which are expected to take effect after October of this year.

In a letter sent to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Gardner, who sits on the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, requested that the USDA delay the implementation of the department's current industrial hemp farming regulations, telling Purdue that the policy "threatens the industrial hemp industry’s potential for Colorado’s farmers and seriously undermines this burgeoning industry."

States, territories and Native tribes were given about two years to craft their own regulations and submit them for USDA approval after hemp farming was legalized in 2018. Colorado, responsible for one of the country's largest hemp industries since 2014, is one of five states waiting to hear back from the federal government about proposed hemp rules after the USDA requested edits and revisions earlier this month from the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Neither the USDA nor the CDA would share which rules were being revisited in Colorado's state hemp plan, but Colorado lawmakers, ag officials and hemp farmers have been peppering the USDA with requests for less restrictive rules since 2019, criticizing the Drug Enforcement Administration's involvement in THC potency testing as well as its requirement that any hemp that tests for over 0.3 percent THC be destroyed; they were also worried about unclear language regarding where hemp will be stored between harvest and testing, and the prospect of having just fifteen days to harvest and test their crops.

"I join the growing chorus of my colleagues, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, and the National Industrial Hemp Council in requesting that you use your secretarial discretion to delay implementation of the final rule in order to address several outstanding issues," Gardner continues in his letter.

Gardner, who is up for re-election against former Governor John Hickenlooper in November, joins Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley in requesting that the USDA to delay the federal hemp rules. However, Gardner is the first notable Republican senator to do so.

If the USDA doesn't accept Colorado's revisions, hemp farmers should be able to continue growing hemp, though the rules might be different, according to Bethleen McCall, a hemp farmer in Yuma County and boardmember of Colorado Hemp Industries Association.

"If Colorado's plan is not accepted by the USDA, the USDA could tell Colorado to try again, or Colorado could tell the USDA that we can't meet their requirements because they're unrealistic and bad for the industry," she explains.

According to McCall, New York (where Schumer serves) has already done that, leaving the state's hemp regulation and enforcement after October up to the USDA. "If that happens, the onus would be on the USDA to come in and regulate the growers within that state, so the USDA would handle registration, testing and other protocols," McCall adds.