Reaching the end of their rope: NY farmers and regulators at odds over hemp

20 hours ago

Agriculture officials in New York say federal rules for producing hemp are “unrealistic.” The state also said they won’t try to regulate the crop. Hemp farmers say they will have to be very careful without support from the state.

Legal hemp is a tricky crop to harvest. It’s cannabis — like marijuana — without the mind-altering properties. But hemp still contains some of the psychoactive chemical, THC.

That’s where the bad news starts for hemp growers like David Falkowski.

“There could be criminal implications on the farmers," Falkowski said. "They could actually be brought up on charges. And some of the lesser degrees, they would have to burn or disk in their crop under the oversight of a DEA registered agency.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a very hard line between what is considered legal hemp and marijuana, an illicit drug. Without the New York government being the middleman with its own regulatory process, Falkowski said he has little protection when dealing with the feds.

The state Department of Agriculture and Markets said in a statement that the agency has asked the USDA to delay what it calls “unreasonable” rule changes, extend the current regulations until 2021, and to otherwise provide a more flexible regulatory structure.

“New York State remains committed to the hemp industry and its growth in New York," the statement read. "The State has worked tirelessly to expand this sector of the agricultural economy and support its growers and processors since 2016. Despite the Department’s feedback on the USDA’s Interim Rule, it remains unchanged and, as written, is extremely challenging to implement. The Department will continue to advocate for reasonable requirements related to the oversight of industrial hemp and is optimistic that common ground can be reached. In the meantime, with the October deadline approaching, the Department will work with the industry to the extent that transition to oversight by the USDA is necessary.”

The agency said it will help growers transition to USDA licensing for the next season, starting Oct. 31.