Hemp Industry Asks Congress for Help With THC Testing Obstacle | Westword

Hemp Industry Asks Congress for Help With THC Testing Obstacle

Farmers worry that harvest and THC testing rules limit growth.
Hemp farmers have pushed back against the USDA's harvesting and THC rules, but to little success.
Hemp farmers have pushed back against the USDA's harvesting and THC rules, but to little success. Danielle Lirette
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More than three years after hemp's federal legalization, the hemp industry is still pushing back against lab testing and harvesting requirements. During this go-round, however, the push is going to Congress.

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp farming, but also required farmers to pass THC tests from labs certified by the Drug Enforcement Administration by 2022. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are only two such labs in Colorado, while some states have zero.

"If I’m a hemp farmer [in some states], I’m under real stress to get my stuff tested,” Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, says.

Hemp lobbyists and farmers have asked the USDA to lift the DEA requirement, but so far have not been successful. However, the Hemp Advancement Act of 2022 would override the USDA ruling and open hemp testing up to more labs.

Introduced by United States House Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine, the bill would be a "great way to provide relief" to hemp farmers and product manufacturers, according to Miller. It would also lift a ban on felons trying to enter industrial hemp cultivation.

Colorado hemp farmer Nick French, owner of Frangosia Farms and Colorado Hemp Honey, says the harvest and testing rules have created an unneeded struggle for new businesses.

“Requiring testing to be conducted in DEA-registered laboratories is restrictive to many people in several states,” says French, who has been in the hemp industry since 2015. “I don’t think the DEA needs to be involved in this aspect.”
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Frangiosa Farms in Parker, Colorado.
Frangiosa Farms

The Hemp Advancement Act would also raise the federal limit of THC from 0.3 percent to 1 percent for hemp that's still in the field or hemp-derived extractions that are still in the processing stage (the final result must still be 0.3 percent THC or under). The move would give farmers more flexibility while avoiding the destruction of hemp that tests above the legal limit but can be remediated, according to French.

“As a hemp farmer myself, I know that during the last month before harvest I am watching the THC concentration in my plants very closely, with field testing conducted about every five days,” he says. "Everybody in the industry knows that when you process hemp, it spikes above 0.3 percent.”

Climate unpredictability and certain soil properties can cause hemp THC percentages to fluctuate, he adds.

“Once I start to see numbers around 0.23 percent, I go into a panic and have to harvest ASAP — and that can be tough when trying to find enough hands to harvest in a short time period,” French says. “[Going to] 1 percent gives me the flexibility to plan the harvest, schedule staff and let the plants mature a little more to increase flower size and CBD concentrations.”

The bill would also reverse a 2018 stipulation from the Farm Bill that bans most people with felony drug convictions from producing hemp for ten years.

“I think hemp farming could give felons a career, purpose and meaning to their new life outside of prisons. If they truly have paid for their crimes, then let them have access to the hemp industry," French argues.

Aside from the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, thirteen other organizations including Americans for Safe Access, the Hemp Industries Association and the American Herbal Products Association have supported the Hemp Advancement Act. The bill has yet to receive a congressional hearing or an official co-sponsor in the House, but Miller hopes that portions of the bill could be added as an amendment to larger budget legislation.
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