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State Finalizes New Hemp Rules

Evan Johnson
Evan Johnson 1 Aug 2019

Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (AAFM) has prepared a new set of rules governing the cultivation and processing of hemp in Vermont. After receiving input from farmers, drafting and a public comment period, the rules will go into effect this month.

The structure and function of Vermont’s hemp program has been in development since the 2014 Farm Bill permitted the cultivation of industrial hemp under state pilot projects. Now, with the newest farm bill in place, the Agency of Agriculture will be in charge of regulating industrial hemp, instead of researching it.

Cary Giguere, director of public health, agriculture resource management at the Agency of Agriculture said the rules were the first of their kind for the state’s program.

The rules include a list of definitions for hemp-related cultivation that spans everything from “Cannabinoid” to “Test Lot” to “Tetrahydrocannabinol.”

“The details aren’t there and this really provides the details,” he said. “What we’ve really built are rules that emphasize consumer protection and quality control in the industry.”

The rules include a list of definitions for hemp-related cultivation that spans everything from “Cannabinoid” to “Test Lot” to “Tetrahydrocannabinol.”

Under the draft, growers are to grow crops in certified and registered cultivation, drying and storage areas. Those areas are to be accessible to inspectors as well as any maps representing those areas. Growers can use any propagation method including planting seeds or starts, cuts or clones, and must submit annual reports including number of employees, income and other data.

Vermont has three different methods to determine if a plant is taxonomically hemp and under the .3 percent THC limit set by the USDA’s 2018 Farm Bill, which passed this past year. “Growers have a little more assurance that the crop they are growing is hemp and is not going to be condemned,” Giguere said.

Under the new rules, growers are required to destroy crops that are found to be out of compliance within 48 hours.

“One of the things that makes Vermont’s rules stand out is they’re based on the best available reliable science.”

The new rules also affect those with felony drug convictions who wish to register to cultivate hemp. A person convicted of a felony relating to a controlled substance under state or federal law before, on, or after Dec. 20 2019 will be ineligible to register for the Hemp Program, but those that register before will be grandfathered in.

Giguere said the rules also set standards for some of the labels that appear on consumer goods.

“Some of the rules that you see on CBD products like whole plant or full spectrum, those aren’t necessarily defined and those will be defined by the rules and they will know what they’re buying when they purchase it.”

Hemp growers have responded to the new rules as well. Rick Fox is the co-founder of Meristem Farms, which grows high cannabinoid hemp varieties on 46 acres in Morrisville.

Fox said he appreciated the new rules for three reasons: Reliable testing for THC, the availability of early genetic testing, and steps to protecting a Vermont brand that’s respected around the country.

“I’ve been encouraging people with prior convictions to go and get a permit right now.”

“One of the things that makes Vermont’s rules stand out is they’re based on the best available reliable science,” he said. “What this does for my company or anyone creating a high quality product or small to medium farms is it allows us to use a wider diversity of varieties and gives us the possibility of producing more CBD per unit of production and it’s still perfectly compliant with the law.”

As for genetic testing, growers can test their seedlings for cannabinoid content.

“If they’re hot, we can stop spending money on them right then and there,” Fox said. “Instead of growing them out all season long and putting all the money and effort that grows into that only to discover in October that now we have a problem.”

“Having that option reduces risk for farmers and increases certainty,” he added. “There’s no sampling error, genes are what they are.”

Fox said buyers place a premium on goods made in Vermont, such as dairy or maple products. The new rules also set a standard for products bearing the label “Produced in Vermont.” According the rules, that label should be used “only those hemp products or those hemp infused products that are grown and manufactured in their entirety within Vermont”.

“Most states don’t have the cache that Vermont has so I appreciate they are taking steps to protect that,” Fox said. “For my company that only increases the value of our product, and who doesn’t like that?”

“If they’re hot, we can stop spending money on them right then and there.”

Dave Silberman is a Middlebury-based attorney and pro-bono cannabis reform advocate. Silberman said while he’s been a vocal critic of the state’s efforts to bring cannabis fully into a taxed and regulated system, the new rules are a step in the right direction.

“Overall, I think this the only positive action that the Scott administration has taken in the past three years,” he said. “And I’m really glad to see the Agency of Agriculture taking such a pro-grower stance and a pro economic development through hemp and I only wish they took the same sort of pro economic growth with all cannabis and not just hemp.”

Silberman was especially pleased about the statute to include those with past drug convictions in an expanding hemp economy.

“Under the 2018 Farm Bill, you’re excluded from being able to participate in any hemp license, but what the Agency of Ag did was they grandfathered in anyone who already has a hemp license,” he said. “So if anyone has a license already or receives one by December of this year, they can continue to participate in the program even when the ten-year restriction from the feds goes effect. I’ve been encouraging people with prior convictions to go and get a permit right now.”

On May 15, the AAFM submitted a proposed set of Vermont Hemp Rules to the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office. The public comment period has now closed and the rules are being finalized before going before the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules for review. Once finished, the rules will go into effect.

The state’s rules will need to be compliant with the USDA’s rules on hemp, which are in development.

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