Hemp Industry LogosThe five leading organizations in the U.S. industrial hemp industry, Vote Hemp, the Hemp Industries Association, the National Hemp Association, the Kentucky Hemp Industry Council and the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council – together representing hundreds of businesses and thousands of farmers – join to address last week’s publication of a “Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp,” issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration.  We are very grateful to Secretary Tom Vilsack for his leadership in spearheading this inter-agency effort and his strong support for the return of a booming industrial hemp industry.

We are very pleased that, for the first time, federal agencies have confirmed that federal law permits the interstate sale of hemp products made from U.S. cultivated hemp plants, as long as the hemp was grown or cultivated as part of a state agricultural pilot program authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.  Such a confirmation sends a strong signal of support to hemp farmers and businesses, and it provides clear assurance to investors and financial institutions that such commerce is legal, in contrast to the murky federal legal regime governing marijuana.  (Industrial hemp comes from the same plant species as its psychoactive counterpart, but by legal definition, it contains a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.)

Also very welcome is the news that authorized hemp pilot program participants will now be eligible for the wide variety of USDA programs made available to other crop farmers and agri-businesses, such as, potentially, loans, grants, certification programs and crop insurance.

However, there are several declarations made within the Statement that raise concern, declarations that we believe could be interpreted in a manner that is inconsistent, or directly contradictory, with federal law.

The Statement clearly notes that it “does not establish any binding legal requirements” and therefore nothing in the Statement compels anyone one in the industry to change any current business practice or operation. We are concerned, however, that selective federal agency enforcement based on these declarations could have a chilling effect on the industry, and might put at risk existing operations that are fully compliant with current federal law.  Our greatest apprehension regards a paragraph in the Statement that could be interpreted to redefine the term “industrial hemp,” contrary to the clear, federally-mandated definition established by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill.  In addition, we are concerned that, contrary to federal law,  the Statement might suggest that hemp stalk, fiber, seed and oil — long exempt from the Controlled Substances Act — cannot be sold in states without agricultural pilot programs if the hemp was grown in the U.S.; that marketing research activity conducted under a pilot program cannot be “commercial” in scale; that some hemp plant parts cannot be transported across state lines; and that the importation of viable seed even for an approved pilot program requires a DEA import license.

Accordingly, we have sent a letter – attached hereto – to Secretary Vilsack.  The letter outlines our concerns and asks both for clarification and assurances to hemp farmers and businesses who have relied on Farm Bill provisions to expend significant investment dollars on federally-authorized research – that they will not have to be concerned about potential federal interference.

We look forward to continue working with the Secretary and his excellent staff as together we identify new opportunities for farmers and create good jobs in the agriculture industry.

We hope this letter also helps remind Congress that to ultimately protect and empower farmers, as well as to launch a fully productive U.S. industrial hemp industry, it must pass legislation to fully legalize the non-psychoactive crop.  S.134 and H.R. 525, the Industrial Hemp Farming Acts of 2015, boast nearly 100 co-sponsors between them, and offer the ideal, permanent boost for a thriving domestic hemp industry.

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