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Environment & Science

USDA Approves New Regulations For Montana Hemp Producers

A close-up of industrial hemp,  July 16, 2013.
Marcia O'Connor/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
The Montana Departmen of Agriculture recieved a green light on Mar. 6 2020 after outlining how it would meet stricter federal regulations.

The Montana Department of Agriculture received the green light late last week on its hemp plan after outlining how it would meet stricter federal regulations, including testing and sampling. Some farmers may experience more stringent regulations in 2021.

Montana had the largest hemp crop in the country last year with over 50,000 acres planted and nearly 300 growers.

The state’s recently approved hemp production plan is expected to bring Montana producers in line with nation-wide testing, record-keeping and licensure standards and clear up legal uncertainty after the plant was removed from the controlled substances list in 2018. The Fort Belknap Indian Community received approval of its plan in January.

“That consistency is definitely going to make things a little bit easier, particularly as we see hemp moving from state to state for processing,” Says Ben Thomas, director of Montana Department of Agriculture. 

That’s Ben Thomas, director of the Montana Department of Agriculture. He says the new regulations won’t affect growers until 2021.

Thomas says he’s pleased with the USDA’s approval of Montana’s new plan. But, he says some of the federal regulations go too far, especially in testing for THC, the psychedelic chemical compound in hemp’s cousin Marijuana.

“So we differentiate between varieties. There are some certified varieties that are just inherently safer from a THC perspective,” Thomas says.

He says the state randomly tests hemp varieties for fiber and feed, which have lower THC levels. Varieties grown for CBD oil have higher THC levels and are always tested.

Under the new plan, the state will be required to test both the low risk and high risk varieties equally.

“So we’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to meet that 100 percent testing requirement. But on top of that I think it’s also a waste of resources," Thomas says.

He says it costs money to send out technicians and a farmer pays $250 for each test.

Thomas says the USDA also shortened the window of time the state has to test the crop before it’s harvested and doesn’t provide much flexibility.

“For example, if a producer saw a big weather event coming up, and they needed to harvest that day, we would permit post-harvest sampling,” Thomas says. 

He says that’s not the case with the new federal rule.

"I’d like to see that changed at least as an option for emergency situations,” Thomas says.

Thomas says there may be opportunities to improve the federal regulations in coming years as more states share what is and isn’t working.

Producers have until Apr. 30 to apply for a hemp license application with the state.

Montana received federal authorization with the 2014 Farm Bill to launch a hemp pilot program. With the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp was removed from the controlled substances list and regulatory authority transferred from the Drug Enforcement Agency to the USDA.