Industrial hemp

Hemp grows in an Oregon field in this 2018 file photo.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture has withdrawn the updated state hemp plan it submitted to USDA in August after Congress voted to delay implementation of new production rules through Sept. 30, 2021.

That means ODA will continue regulating hemp growers under the current pilot program established in the 2014 Farm Bill for at least another year.

Sunny Summers, Oregon’s cannabis policy coordinator, said the move allows extra time to ensure compliance with USDA requirements.

“All in all, I think it benefits the industry to wait and see if we can smooth out some of those bumps along the road,” Summers said.

USDA issued its interim final rule for hemp production on Oct. 31, 2019, giving states one year to submit plans for approval before the law went into effect. But Summers said they were struggling to meet the original deadline.

For example, hemp growers applying for a license cannot have any felony convictions on their records, though ODA does not have the statutory authority to conduct background checks. Bills to fix the situation in the Oregon Legislature failed after the last two sessions ended in Republican walkouts.

“We decided to pull back our planned submission from USDA and wait,” Summers said. “We just wanted to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Hemp industry members were also concerned about the deadline, primarily because it would change regulations in the middle of harvest season.

“We don’t want our farmers interrupted in the middle of harvest,” said Courtney Moran, president of the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association, in a previous interview. “These people have worked so hard. They have invested a significant amount of capital. To have regulatory overreach in this commodity ... it breeds a lot of concern, and a lot of confusion.”

Ultimately, Congress pushed back implementation of the interim final hemp rule in October as part of a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through Dec. 11.

On Dec. 2, ODA announced it would withdraw its updated plan. Summers said the withdrawal will not change Oregon’s requirements for testing total THC versus Delta-9 THC.

By rule, hemp cannot have more than 0.3% THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound in marijuana that gets users high. Oregon previously tested simply for levels of Delta-9 THC, which is the intoxicating form of the compound.

However, there is another component in standing hemp plants known as tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, or THC-A, that converts to Delta-9 THC when heated. In its interim final rule, USDA states it will test for total THC in hemp plants.

In response, ODA announced in 2019 that it too would test for total THC in hemp. The change went into effect this year.

“We are not changing that going into 2021,” Summers said. “While it’s been hard on growers, that is the level that we’re anticipating they’re going to have to meet. ... We have to go with whatever the federal requirements are.”

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