Oregon farmers hoping to get into the hemp business have a problem. While both the state and federal governments have made it legal to grow the plant, the U.S. Department of Agriculture still lacks the necessary regulations to ensure selling the product across state lines is legal.
It’s a stumbling block for the nearly 2,000 registered hemp farmers in the state.
Hemp is the same plant as marijuana but with too little THC to get anyone high. Without consistent standards for testing to determine how much THC is in hemp plants, different tests can produce different results. Growers have to get it right. If they don’t, their crops cannot be sold, and hemp cannot be shipped to other states.
Oregon has told the USDA it would come up with its own rules governing hemp. It made permanent in May temporary rules governing the crop. The 2018 Farm Bill allows it to do that. Unfortunately, though Oregon’s rules are legal in Oregon, they’re no guarantee a grower here could ship his product elsewhere. For states that opt out of planning, USDA rules will apply. Those rules are not complete.
The federal Food and Drug Administration also gets involved and is also behind. It doesn’t have a role in governing hemp grown for fiber. It does have a role for hemp products such as cannabidiol that are destined for food and other substances regulated by the FDA. Then, FDA requirements will kick in. And those requirements are not written.
Despite the uncertainty, the 2018 Farm Bill has had at least one positive effect. Oregon State University announced in June it plans to create a Global Hemp Innovation Center at its School of Agriculture in Corvallis. It also will develop a hemp seed certification program designed to guarantee farmers that what they buy is legal.
It may have been unrealistic to think that the federal government would get hemp rules in place quickly. But until it does, however, farmers here don’t know where they’ll be able to sell their crops. Oregon’s congressional delegation needs to ensure the federal government gets the job done.