Maine Delegation Urges USDA to Heed Maine DACF’s Comments on Interim Final Hemp Rule

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME-01) and Jared Golden (D-ME-02) wrote to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), urging the agency to heed the formal comments and concerns of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF) on the interim final rule on domestic hemp production. A signed copy of the letter can be found here. 

 

“As you know, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 created a legal pathway for domestic hemp production. We appreciate that [USDA] published an interim final rule on October 31, 2019 to implement those farm bill provisions, providing much needed certainty for hemp growers and businesses in Maine and across the country.” said the Maine delegation in the letter. “As [USDA] works on drafting a final rule, we respectfully request your consideration of DACF’s comments and concerns.”

 

Hemp, which is grown in every Maine county, contains less than .3% THC and can be used for a variety of products, including rope, textile, and paper. The state’s hemp industry has seen massive growth over the past year; more than 2,000 acres were planted in 2019, up from 550 acres in 2018. Much of that acreage is cultivated for CBD use.

 

The interim final rule was released by USDA on October 31, 2019. Public comment is open on the hemp rule until December 31, 2019.

 

In addition to supporting DACF’s comments on USDA’s interim rule establishing a Domestic Hemp Production Program, the delegation has also worked to address the financing obstacles that hemp-producing businesses have encountered. Despite the 2018 Farm Bill’s legalization of hemp, the lack of clarity in federal banking regulations has created major barriers for hemp businesses. Pingree and Golden first wrote to USDA on April 30, 2019 to ask for expedited hemp regulations and clarity for Maine farmers.

 

The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (HR 1595), passed the House with support from Pingree and Golden in September. The bill would allow financial institutions to serve cannabis-related businesses in states where it has been legalized. Senator King is a cosponsor of the Senate version of the SAFE Banking Act (S 1200), and in November wrote a letter to the Senate Banking Committee expressing his support for the House-passed bill.

 

Pingree and Golden again wrote to USDA on October 23, 2019, urging expedited rules for hemp in light of the news that Sheepscot Farm—an organic u-pick strawberry farm that also grows hemp—had lost accounts at both their bank and insurance company due to uncertainty in federal regulations and a lack of guidance by USDA. Pingree held a roundtable with farmers on USDA’s interim final hemp rule at Sheepscot General yesterday.