The federal government announced Tuesday that it will launch a U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program, as required by the 2018 Farm Bill.

The new program, announced in a conference call with news reporters, creates “a consistent regulatory framework around hemp production throughout the United States,” according to a statement released by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

The announcement was greeted with relief by Philadelphia-area attorneys who specialize in cannabis law.

“We’ve been waiting for substantive and regulatory guidance since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill,” said William Roark, who is a cochair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Pennsylvania Bar Association’s medical marijuana and hemp law committee. “While these draft regulations are only a starting point, it’s encouraging to see that the USDA recognizes the importance of guidance in this emerging industry.”

Pennsylvania already allows farmers to grow hemp under a permit program run by the state’s Department of Agriculture.

Hemp producers across the nation now will be eligible for USDA protections, loans, and independent crop-disaster insurance. The interim regulations will be published Thursday in the Federal Register.

The USDA will track where hemp is grown and offer instructions on how to collect a statistically representative sample from the crop to ensure that it does not contain more THC than allowed. Hemp, a low-powered form of cannabis, is considered illegal marijuana when more than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive compound is concentrated in the plant. Sampling of hemp flowers must be conducted within 15 days of harvest and tested at DEA-approved laboratories.

The USDA will allow a margin of error for THC, called a “measurement of uncertainty," that will establish procedures for disposing of plants that are found to contain more than 0.5 percent of the intoxicating substance.

Until the Farm Bill was passed by Congress, hemp was treated by federal agencies as a Schedule 1 drug and considered as dangerous as heroin and LSD.

“Sure, it was great that Congress removed hemp from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act , but until more helpful regulatory guidance is provided, the hemp industry remains in relative purgatory,” Roark said. “Even if there are issues in these draft regulations that need working – at least now the conversation has begun and the public can offer their comments.”

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