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U.S. Department of Agriculture legal opinion says hemp can be moved across state lines

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has published a legal opinion stating hemp can be transported across state lines, an action saluted by Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.

“The policy announcement from the United States Department of Agriculture confirms what Kentucky has been saying all along,” Quarles said. “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. This announcement provides much-needed certainty for the hemp industry in Kentucky and across the nation.”

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

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles applauded an opinion that says hemp can be legally transported across state lines. (File photo from Kentucky Today)

• As of the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill on December 20, 2018, 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 Indian 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 Indian 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 December 20, 2018, and whose conviction also occurred before that date.

The opinion also notes that while the 2018 Farm Bill gives states and tribes the authority to enact laws regulating the production of hemp, they cannot block the legal shipment of hemp through that state or territory.

This ruling should solve issues such as 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.

“When Kentucky hosted USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach in April, he 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,” Quarles said. “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.”

Quarles expressed his gratitude to Under Secretary Ibach “for seeking input from states with hemp programs and for working expeditiously to implement the hemp provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill.”

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 said.

Processors paid Kentucky farmers $17.75 million for harvested hemp materials in 2018, up from $7.5 million the year before, Quarles said.

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