USDA: Hemp OK to take through states

Photo by Matt Barton/ University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment

Tractors with cutters and conditioners harvested the industrial hemp research plots at the C. Oran Little Research Farm.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles issued a statement proceeding a publication of a legal opinion from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on hemp, clarifying that hemp is a legal agricultural crop that can be moved across state lines.

In the statement, Quarles stated this confirmed something that Kentuckians have been saying all along.

"The 2018 Farm Bill made hemp legal nationwide, and it is unlawful for any state agency to interfere in the transportation of lawfully produced hemp," the statement read. "This announcement provides much-needed certainty for the hemp industry in Kentucky and across the nation."

Sean Southard, the director of communications for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, said that Quarles appreciates the USDA's opinion.

"And (it) just reiterates what they have said, and that is that hemp is a legally recognized crop and could be transported," Southard said.

The opinion contains four basic provisions regarding the crop and those who grow it:

• As of the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill on Dec. 20, hemp has been removed from schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and is no longer a controlled substance.

• After USDA publishes regulations implementing the new hemp production provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill, states and Native American tribes may not prohibit the interstate transportation or shipment of hemp lawfully produced under a state or tribal plan or under a license issued under the USDA plan.

• States and Native American tribes also may not prohibit the interstate transportation or shipment of hemp lawfully produced under the 2014 Farm Bill.

• A person with a state or federal felony conviction relating to a controlled substance is subject to a 10-year ineligibility restriction on producing hemp under the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946. An exception applies to a person who was lawfully growing hemp under the 2014 Farm Bill before Dec. 20, 2018, and whose conviction also occurred before that date.

The opinion notes that while the 2018 Farm Bill gives state the authority to create and enforce laws that regulate hemp production, they cannot block the legal shipment of hemp through that state or territory.

This ruling should solve issues such as one that occurred in January, when an 18,000-pound shipment of hemp valued at $500,000 was seized in Oklahoma, while being trucked from Louisville to Colorado.

Quarles also said in the release, "USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach in April … and I discussed lingering issues involving the interstate commerce and transportation of hemp -- issues that continue to hinder the industry even though hemp is a legal agricultural commodity. With around 1,000 licensed hemp growers and more than 56,000 acres of hemp production approved this year in Kentucky, it is important for Kentucky's hemp community to have certainty regarding the interstate transportation of their crop."

Kentucky hemp processors reported $57.75 million in gross product sales last year, more than tripling the 2017 total, according to Quarles. Processors spent $23.4 million in capital improvements and employed a total of 459 people in 2018, he reported.

Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter @TaylorSixRR.

React to this story: