What Happens When Pilot Program Expires: A Closer Look at USDA’s Rule

— Written By Marne Coit
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6/29/2020 – Under the USDA’s Interim Final Rule, published October 2019, all state pilot programs will end October 30, 2020. This includes the pilot program that we are currently operating under in NC. By all accounts, we will still continue to have a licensing program in NC, but what is still uncertain is which program we will be operating under.

If the US Congress takes no further action, it will most likely be the USDA’s plan. However, if Congress passes a bill that allows the USDA to extend the time that pilot programs are allowed to continue, then it is possible that we could continue under our current pilot program for at least another growing season. While there has been support for extending pilot programs, it is unclear how likely it is to happen (for example, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) passed a policy resolution in February in support of continuing pilot programs).

Since it does seem increasingly likely that we will be operating under the provisions of the USDA’s plan at the end of October, it seems worthwhile to review some of the key provisions, as there will be important differences between the pilot program and the USDA’s program.

Key Provisions:

  • Licensing:
    • Pilot program: Once the pilot program expires, most likely licenses issued under the program will also expire.
      • The NC Industrial Hemp Commission will expire when the pilot program expires.
    • USDA: Growers in NC will apply directly to the USDA for a license. Licenses will be good for 3 years.
  • Testing & Destruction of Hot Crops:
    • Pilot program: Growers are to notify the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at flower initiation, with inspection to occur within approximately 2 weeks.
      • If crops test hot, a 2nd test is completed by the state lab, and sometimes a 3rd Crops that still test hot will be destroyed.
    • USDA: Mandates that samples for testing be taken within 15 days of harvest.
      • If crops test hot once they will be destroyed.
    • Negligence:
      • Pilot program: If crops test hot, they will be destroyed. There is no penalty to the grower.
      • USDA: Threshold is .5% THC. If a crop tests above this level 3 times within 5 years, the grower will lose their license for 5 years.

It is worth noting that at this time the details of how the USDA would administer their plan is unknown. For example, it is not clear right now how the agency would conduct testing in the state of NC, or how the agency would handle the destruction of crops that test over the legal limit.

We will continue to provide updates here as information becomes available. If you do have any questions, please email industrialhemp@ncsu.edu. Note: we are unable to answer questions or address comments submitted through this website.

Additional Resources:

Statement From NCDA&CS on THC Testing

USDA’s Interim Final Rule