Hemp Industry Members File Lawsuit Against DEA, Challenging Rule That Could Have Far-reaching Consequences

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A national hemp trade association and a South Carolina-based hemp company have filed a federal lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration, challenging a rule the agency implemented last month that could have far-reaching consequences for the U.S. hemp industry.

The petition filed Friday afternoon in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit asks the court to review an interim final rule, “Implementation of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018,” which was promulgated by the DEA on August 21. The lawsuit claims the rule is unlawful because it exceeds the DEA’s legal authority and violates the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the farm bill. The petitioners also argue that acting DEA administrator Timothy Shea, who is individually named as a respondent along with the agency, issued the interim final rule without observing procedures required by law.

The DEA’s interim final rule clarifies that all hemp derivatives or extracts exceeding 0.3% THC shall remain Schedule I controlled substances. This could be interpreted to include intermediate hemp derivatives that temporarily exceed 0.3% during processing, but contain less than 0.3% in final products. As such, it improperly establishes the DEA’s authority over legal hemp activities, which is contrary to the plain language and intent of the 2018 farm bill, according to the petitioners.

The petitioners in the lawsuit are RE Botanicals, Inc. and the Hemp Industries Association.

RE Botanicals, Inc. is a hemp manufacturer and retailer based in South Carolina. In 2019, it acquired Palmetto Synergistic Research LLC (dba Palmetto Harmony), which was founded to provide lawful, reliable, and high-quality hemp products.

“We are a small, woman-operated company,” said Janel Ralph, CEO of RE Botanicals. “The DEA’s new rule could put us out of business overnight.”

HIA is a trade association that represents approximately 1,050-member hemp businesses, including approximately 300 hemp processors and individuals involved in, or impacted by, the manufacture, distribution and/or sale of hemp extract and other products lawfully derived from industrial hemp. HIA successfully challenged DEA rulemaking in 2003, when the agency amended federal regulations to include naturally occurring THC within the definition of “synthetic THC,” thereby treating it as a Schedule I substance despite it falling outside the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act.

“When Congress passed the 2018 farm bill, it explicitly carved hemp and its derivatives out of the Controlled Substances Act so that hemp can be regulated as an agricultural commodity,” said HIA President Rick Trojan. “The DEA’s interim final rule could create substantial barriers to the legal manufacturing of hemp-derived products, a critical component of the hemp supply chain, and devastate the entire hemp industry. Although the DEA states that is not its intention, the rule must be amended to ensure hemp remains an agricultural crop, as Congress intended.”

The petitioners are represented by leading hemp industry attorneys at Vicente Sederberg LLP, Kight Law Office PC, and Hoban Law Group, along with appellate attorneys from Yetter Coleman LLP, which has received national attention for its work against the DEA in the realm of cannabis research.

“The DEA implemented this rule without following proper rule-making procedures, such as providing the public with notice and the opportunity to comment,” said Shawn Hauser, a partner at Vicente Sederberg LLP and chair of the firm’s hemp and cannabinoids practice. “The petitioners believe legal action is necessary to protect the lawful U.S. hemp industry that Congress intended to establish when it enacted the 2018 farm bill.”

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Fine In the Field – September 2020

What A Farmer Thinks About When The Hemp is Growing a Few Inches Per Day

I love this part of the hemp season. Though I realize as they emerge that I could write these same eight words as the lead to this column every month. Which is kind of the point: hemp farming is the most fun you can have outside the bedroom. Maybe it’s because my fingers are still terpene-fragrant as I type, but it seems to me that if being out in the field inhaling flowers and dodging butterflies isn’t a hemp farmer’s idea of a fun way to start the morning, she might want to choose another line of work.

But how do you not especially love August in a hemp field? The plants are in flower, yet still growing just short of visibly. Every morning I stumble through the dewy native undergrowth that surrounds my garden and wish good morning to completely transformed plants. It’s a daily shock that so much growth can happen in one day. And some people say plants don’t move. They don’t just move. They completely rearrange themselves as I could swear the basil was over here yesterday, relative to the tomatoes, the beans and the hemp.

If you grow dioecious hemp (male and female), as I do and as all farmers have for 8,000 years until a decade ago, the seeds are fattening with Omegas, which means harvest is in sight. This is when a young farmer’s fancy turns lightly to thoughts of THC testing.

Heading inside from the morning’s tax-deductible bliss session, I reacted to the testing results email in my inbox with something of the energy of a high schooler opening his college application reply. The problem with email is you can’t tell from the thickness of the envelope if it’s good news.

Phew. It was: our superfood crop tested at .18%. Here on the Ranch, we grow for seed, fiber, flower and the benefits of the roots. We grow in native soil. Outside. We grow for two main reasons: 1) To thrive on nutrient-dense food and 2) To help build soil and mitigate climate change.

Closing the testing company email (I wish the subject line had read, “Hooray! You passed!”) I could not remember the last time I felt so relieved. The reason I rarely feel relieved is that I rarely feel threatened. As we discussed in last month’s Fine In the Field Column, this cultivar, in various stages of its development, has tested from .1% to .54%, passing more than 85% of the time. I’m leaving out one .8-ish test because of extreme conditions in Arkansas in 2019 (also I provided the seed but didn’t grow that crop). But even if you figured that one in and tripled its THC level to 2.5% THC, that is an extremely low amount of THC, about which no farmer should have to worry for a second.

This discussion is not hypothetical, my friends. It doesn’t get any realer than this even as I felt the worry seep off me. I received a note from a farmer in Pennsylvania devastated and broke from a .4% test. He’d put everything into converting his farm to hemp. This nonsense has to stop, now.

Plant cannabinoid levels vary over the course of a day, as any hemp farmer can tell you. Testing equipment type and calibration can cause variations, as do the parts of the plant used in samples. The same researchers who proposed the arbitrary and outdated level of .3% THC under which we live for a short time longer suggested testing leaves. So why do so many early state hemp programs pluck cola flowers, where cannabinoid levels are highest? Testing, while it still occurs at all, should be as farmer friendly as possible. We want farmers to pass their THC tests.

But none of that really matters, in the long term. Having to test for THC at all is an unnecessary threat to the farmers who are trying to mitigate climate change and provide a recovery roadmap from the obesity and diabetes era. No farmer should have to worry about THC testing, ever. And they soon won’t have to. There is a policy route to this important goal. It is called “THC Irrelevance Until Retail” and it’s vital for both the future of the cannabis/hemp industry and for humanity.

What it means is, the farmer never has to deal with a THC test, unless she is part of the entity bringing forth female flower (where cannabinoids reside) to the public at the retail level. Only when flower is packaged and preparing to go to the consumer will THC even be discussed. Then, if states regulators choose (not federal regulators) they can set a THC level above which a cannabis product of any kind might be regulated for either adult social distribution or for medicinal use.

On the policy level, this means that there will no longer be a federal definition of “hemp” versus “cannabis” at all. Cannabis is cannabis, regardless of THC level. Cannabis will once again, as it has for eight millennia, be considered the one agricultural plant that it is. The feds are out of the cannabis game altogether. States will regulate cannabis either as they regulate tomatoes (let’s say for cannabis at less than 3% THC), and something like how they regulate alcohol (if a cannabis flower is intended to reach the public at above that 3% threshold). I should note that one of my key mentors, Edgar Winters, who has been cultivated hemp since 1957 in Alabama (for cotton baling twine), keeps telling me in his patient southern pacing, “Dang it, tell ‘em it should be 4%, at least, before it’s regulated even at the retail level. It’s 25% in dispensaries. There’s nothing to worry about.”

Think it’s a pipe dream? Think again. It’s already evolving in policy. Vermont is leading the way in preparing for this inevitable future. Because make no mistake, this is the way it is going to be. Growing what we want to grow and owning our genetics is a flat-out human right. It is how the Ingalls survived on the Prairie. It is why humanity has lasted as long as it has.

How do we get there (or I should say “back” there – no one tested Kentucky hemp for THC in the Hemp For Victory era)? As we’ve been discussing here in the Fine in the Field space, the first and immediate step is changing the federal definition of hemp to 1% THC by dry weight, as tested in leaves. If you haven’t yet signed the Vote Hemp petition and called your Senators and congress people to add your voice to the rising chorus on the 1% fix, please do.

Once we’re at 1% (catching up to places like Switzerland, Thailand and Ecuador), we can begin the effort to implement “THC Irrelevance Until Retail” rule nationwide. The war on cannabis is over, people, and Cannabis won. This is a good thing. The winners make the rules. The win-win is that a thriving cannabis/hemp industry, where farmers grow for quality and never worry about hampering their crop due to last century’s insane obsession with one chemical compound in their plants, means customers get top-shelf cannabis/hemp.

If we’re wise, our goal is a diverse, regional hemp industry. The food market and really most of the consumer landscape is homogenous enough as it is. Diverse craft hemp markets with regional foci are best for both product quality and public health and safety. Thus, the last people we should be burdening with THC worry are farmers.

Once we realize this goal of “THC Irrelevance Until Retail”, how does the cannabis/hemp landscape look? Well, a farmer might grow a .1% THC flower crop for smokable CBC, or she might grow a fiber crop for supercapacitors, building feedstock or paper whose flowers, if sold, might test at 14%. But that farmer might choose not to sell those flowers to consumers as she’s focusing on her fiber product line, and doesn’t want to go through a THC regulatory process in her state. So she might wholesale them to someone else who will have the burden of testing THC levels before providing the final product to the public. THC will be no one’s business until psychoactive flower goes to customers at the retail level. And again, the farmer never has to think about it.

Meanwhile, the ripening seeds filling the cola flowers and lateral branches here on the Funky Butte Ranch hemp bode well for winter protein for my family. As you can imagine, I’m giving thanks. As are the birds, the rabbits and the bees. But there’s plenty for everybody. As monsoon rains mean I don’t have to water the garden today (heaven’s like, “I got this,”), I have a moment to reflect on the enormous good fortune I feel to be involved in hemp’s resurgence at its rebirth.

When it comes to the entrepreneurial side of my hemp work, the principal reason I’m endeavoring to produce anything beyond my own family’s superfood, cannabinoid and hempcrete requirements (in other words, the reason I make a small-batch product) is to try to provide a model for the kind of product I’d like to see when I shop. Namely, regenerative start to finish, including packaging.

As I type here on the ranch, another harvest full moon is rising, and I realize I spend a lot of time listening to what my plants have to say. Why wouldn’t I? They give so much, ask so little. As if providing my family’s superfood weren’t enough, their roots also sequester carbon and feed me oxygen. Each afternoon, it’s at least five degrees cooler in the garden than anywhere else here in the high desert. I listen to them because a lot is riding on the Funky Butte Ranch’s plant (and able microbes) doing their job, so we can do ours, all species having maximum fun along the way, of course.

We’re a half million acres into the young hemp industry. Personally, I think a reasonable, medium-term goal is 234 million acres – the amount of hemp that will equal today’s combined acreage of corn, wheat, soy, and cotton. Then we, as a nation and as a planet can truly know that superfood security is a seed away. We have one important historical development in our favor, one that may well make the difference: the long nightmare of cannabis prohibition is over. Its 80-year duration is to our advantage: We can shape this industry any way we like. And this time, the farmers are in charge.

About Doug Fine
Doug Fine is a comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and solar-powered goat herder. His latest book is American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade (Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2020). He has cultivated hemp for food, farm-to-table products and seed-building in four U.S. states. You can register for his online regenerative hemp course with Acres USA here. Willie Nelson calls Doug’s work “a blueprint for the America of the future.” The Washington Post says, “Fine is a storyteller in the mold of Douglas Adams.” A website of Doug’s print, radio and television work, United Nations testimony, and TED Talk is at dougfine.com and his social media handle is @organiccowboy.

Vegan Hemp Ranch Dressing recipe

A great vegan option, this ranch dressing is super quick and easy to whip up. Even if you do dairy, try it. You may just like it better.

Vegan Hemp Ranch Dressing recipe

Photos courtesy of Karrisa’s Vegan Kitchen

Vegan Hemp Ranch Dressing ingredients
1 cup hulled hemp seeds (hemp hearts)
1 cup water
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dill
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp chives
Salt to taste

Add all ingredients into your blender and blend until smooth! Super quick and easy.

If you like this, check out our Vegan Hemp Queso recipe

Fine In the Field – August 2020

August, 2020: The Finish Line is In Sight: Final Steps If Hemp is Going to Save Humanity

I admit it: I find it cool that I can confidently write, “hemp cleans up radioactive soil.” Not, “I heard it does,” or “I wish it did,” or even “someone told me they used it at Chernobyl.” It actually does, according to a study being presented this month. I’m pleased to report that I provided the hemp for the study.

Last week I received word that researcher Hanah Rheay at New Mexico State University (under the guidance of Professors April Ulery and Catherine Brewer), is reporting in her American Society For Horticultural Science conference presentation on August 10 that she is seeing initial success in uranium uptake from contaminated mining soil planted with a hemp variety that I’ve been developing for five seasons. The plants do most of the work, actually. It’s pretty amazing.

The results are preliminary and research continues, but to see hemp confirmed as a phytoremediator of radioactive soil is certainly promising news. As I reported in my book American Hemp Farmer, in a first-phase study at the University of Hawaii, hemp is also removing 80 percent of the herbicide atrazine in soil, 50 days after planting.

More on both of these somewhat earthshaking (maybe the better word is earth-cleaning) studies as research continues. For now, fellow primates, just know that you, cultivating on small or large acreage, can help save humanity. You can grow superfood, rocket components, health maintenance compounds and green home building feedstock while sequestering carbon and removing toxins from soil. That is, if you grow outdoors, organically building native soil. That means not plugging your earth-saving plant into trucked-in soil through plastic sheets. For heaven’s sake, there are dozens of healthy weed matting methods for every ecosystem and climate – ones that humans have been using for millennia. I use seasoned alfalfa hay with goat poop topping. Enough with the petro-plastic already. It’s not needed.

So at this exciting moment, it might seem like this week’s Fine in the Field column’s theme is another example of a plant having the strong potential to play a role in expanding our species’ tenure on this planet – that is, using hemp at scale to clean up the twentieth century’s mistakes and forge forth into what we plant-based-economy advocates call the New Biomaterials Era. But actually this column’s theme is “we must change the federal THC definition of hemp to 1% immediately.” (THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive component of the cannabis/hemp plant.) That’s because all the soil cleaning and superfood growing might depend on a policy tweak happening before October 31.

You see, all cannabis/hemp varieties want some THC – the same way that our blood wants hemoglobin. Hemp has evolved with its 110 known cannabinoids, of which THC is one, for a variety of purposes, including predator defense, climatic adaptation, and pollinator attraction. And also, as Michael Pollan asserts in Botany of Desire, to please us apes.

And yet the current definition of hemp at the federal level – the THC definition that allows only some varieties of cannabis (for the moment) to be pulled from the Controlled Substances Act and be regulated as the agricultural products that they are, is unworkably low. As I mentioned in American Hemp Farmer, the .3% THC definition now in place under federal law was described by the Canadian researchers who chose it in a 1976 paper as an “arbitrary” level. The end result in the ground 44 years later is that 30% or more of hemp tests are going mildly hot (meaning beyond .3% THC by dry weight) in the early years of the modern industry. Most hot tests do not exceed 1%. Mine never have.

And here we return to cleaning the world’s immensely stressed soil and saving humanity. My cultivar, when I’ve grown it or provided it over the past two seasons, has passed its THC test 80% of the time. It tested at .1% and .25% here in New Mexico last year, and it tested at .29 in Oregon in 2018. But sometimes it tests a bit higher. And when I say a bit, I mean a very tiny bit. It’s hard to overstate the small levels of THC we’re discussing here – even 3% or 4% THC would not be anything close to dispensary THC levels, yet we’re dickering over percentages less than 1%?

We were at .54% in a North Dakota research plot in 2019. In rejecting the cultivar for farmers because of this absurd .3% ceiling, the researcher who conducted the study wrote me this super flattering note about my cultivar’s kick-butt performance in the field: “It was interesting to note that emergence of (your cultivar) at Langdon and other locations was the highest of all hemp cultivars. Emergence of hemp from the soil is a challenging issue and (your cultivar) seems to have a definite advantage in this area.”

Whoo hoo! Let’s get its superfood, fragrant flower, healing roots and strong fiber in the hands of farmers and grow, say 89 million acres of it (so we equal corn acreage, as a start). Oh, wait, I forgot: we’re subjecting farmers to insanely unworkable conditions. North Dakota’s solution? Offer farmers varieties that didn’t grow as well as mine. Ladies and gentlemen, that is no way to launch an industry.

Bottom line, with identical genetics (literally the same batch of the same seed), my COAs (Certificates of Analysis, which show the results of professional lab tested hemp samples) vary from .1 up to, one time, frighteningly close to .8 percent, though that was a very late planting in stressed soil in Arkansas. This proves that environment is hugely important in cannabinoid production. Duh. You plant a tomato in rich Oregon soil, it is going to have a distinct nutritive profile from the same seeds planted in the Sahara or subarctic.

This is just one example of why we have to change the THC definition of hemp to 1% posthaste: our immediate future as a species is at stake. U.S. farmers know that much of their farmland is sick — they have to dump more than twice as much nitrogen on each year as they did in 1964.¹ Europe has 3 million contaminated sites, the United States has 1,300 Superfund sites, and China estimates that 20 percent of its soil is polluted.²

Now, I’ll grant that planetary human survival is a legit topic. But at the moment I’m thinking more of next month’s mortgage for thousands of farmers who have risked everything to join the hemp renaissance. There were 16,877 permits issued in the U.S. last year, and for many of these farming families, their living depends on their hemp field. We should be making cannabis/hemp cultivation as easy as possible for these humanity-extenders. Worry-free hemp farming it should be, and worry free it will be.

At the moment, and I mean as you read these words, thousands of hemp farmers, myself among them, are sweating: it’s state inspection time of year in the final days of .3%. We’re all on our annual pins and needles as to how our samples are going to come back. For crying out loud, even the time of day when the samples are taken is a factor in THC levels, as it the type of testing equipment used.

Our grandchildren will laugh at our early hemp industry war stories. Dandling on our knees, they’ll ask, “The government spent money to come to our farm and test the crop for cannabinoids? For what possible purpose?”

Real people, like my friends at Salt Creek Hemp in Colorado in 2017, have lost their whole harvest on an arguable .34% test. That year, 30% of samples in Colorado and Kentucky tested hot. Folks, 1% is nothing. It needs to happen, and it needs to happen now. The war on cannabis is over. Cannabis won. Get over THC. If you don’t want to burn ganja, don’t. But in the field, it’s irrelevant.

And here’s why 1% needs to happen yesterday. On October 31 (appropriately enough), unworkable USDA hemp regulations kick in. Among the onerous provisions in these Interim Final Rules (IFR) is one that subjects a hemp farmer to federal narcotics prosecution at the unconscionable level of .5% THC. That means if a farmer grows my cultivar (or one of dozens of varieties like it), if she’s a good farmer, she has a 20% chance of being exposed to legal problems, rather than being profoundly thanked for her environmental work and patriotism. After all, hemp has, since 1994, been declared by executive order to be one of the nation’s “essential agricultural products” that should be stocked for defense preparedness purposes.³ She might be endeavoring to grow a healthy salad topping, a regenerative truck part or rocket component, a cannabinoid wellness tincture, or, as in the phytoremediation project for which I’ve been providing the genetics, trying to clean up toxins like uranium.

At this point, you might be saying, “How dare they put up any roadblocks to this plant?” But I’d like to be fair and say that when I speak to USDA folks who are involved in rulemaking, they’d like to see hemp succeed. To some degree, their hands are tied by the .3% definition, which is in federal law and so needs to be updated by congress. But the menacing IFR is really our catalyst to change that law. In congressional testimony, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has adopted an apologetic tone for undue influence from enforcement agencies when crafting the initial IFR. Such agencies — such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)  — were explicitly removed from hemp policy when hemp was legalized in the 2018 farm bill. Plus, the hardworking folks at DEA have opioid, meth and prescription drug crises to tackle. Hemp – and soon all cannabis – is out of federal law enforcement purview.

But there it is: the USDA’s IFR under current federal law pretty much shuts down the industry. It’s a non-starter. Easy fix, though. Before that IFR kicks in on October 31, Congress must act and change the definition of hemp to 1%. Then those IFR provisions are leapfrogged and our state hemp administrators are freed from burdening farmers with ridiculous tests. And then, in turn, we can launch this industry, rebuild rural America and mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon with regenerative farming practices. The win-win for customers resides in the superior, healthy products.

By the way, both major national farmer groups support raising the THC definition of hemp: the Farm Bureau and the National Farmer’s Union (in fact the NFU wants 3%). And the 1% move is an international phenomenon. Last week Ecuador joined the growing worldwide 1% team, alongside countries like Switzerland and Thailand, and multiple states in Australia.

What can you do? If you’re in the industry or love those who are, don’t merely sign the petition that the folks at Vote Hemp have set up. Please also call your Senators and congressperson and say, “No joke: my grandkids’ future depends on a 1% THC definition of hemp now. Add it to the forthcoming relief bill. It must happen by October 31.”

As for the IFR, you voice matters here, too, and USDA administrators recognize that there are serious problems with the document – the criminal risk at .5% is just one issue among many. And the good folks at the USDA have already delayed implementation of some onerous testing provisions that would have forced farmers to only use DEA-approved labs for cannabinoid sampling. But there is only so much that can be fixed in those regulations by October 31. You can comment and specify that all the enforcement wording must be removed, leaving any “enforcement” provisions to states. But the simple legislative tweak to a 1% definition must happen regardless, so please get on the horn with your federal representatives.

Back home in the Funky Butte Ranch at this time of year, the hemp is growing visibly every day. In the daily inspection of the crop that also serves as my morning stretch and trichome inhalation session (sometimes I’ll even honk my saxophone at the plants), I’m astounded each day in August by a sort of “my little babies are all grown up!” realization. The males and females are courting. And next week I’ll send off my official state samples, one of the final years a farmer will ever have to worry about .3% THC in his or her hemp crop. Wish me luck. Wish us all luck. There’s a lot of soil to clean up.

About Doug Fine

Doug Fine is a comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and solar-powered goat herder. His latest book is American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade (Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2020). He has cultivated hemp for food, farm-to-table products and seed-building in four U.S. states, will be offering an online regenerative hemp course with Acres USA in the fall. Willie Nelson calls Doug’s work “a blueprint for the America of the future.” The Washington Post says, “Fine is a storyteller in the mold of Douglas Adams.” A website of Doug’s print, radio and television work, United Nations testimony, and TED Talk is at dougfine.com and his social media handle is @organiccowboy.

  1. Jenny Hopkinson, “Can American Soil Be Brought Back to Life?” Politico, September 13, 2017, https://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/09/13/soil-health-agriculture-trend-usda-000513.
  2. “Report Sounds Alarm on Soil Pollution,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, May 2, 2018, http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1126971/icode/.

  3. Renée Johnson, Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, July 24, 2013), https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/20130724_RL32725_b2a91097ba168413aa8806f6bc5215fa20ee97de.pdf.

Hemp Industry Call to Action: Vote Hemp Urges Community to Sign Petition Calling for Congress to Approve 1% THC Levels in Hemp

“The hemp industry is creating many good jobs in farming and manufacturing at this critical time. We need to ensure that farmers don’t get hurt and that the industry can continue to grow and compete with other countries that allow higher THC levels.”Eric Steenstra, President, Vote Hemp

Washington, DC (July 14, 2020) – Leading hemp policy and advocacy group Vote Hemp is urging the hemp community to take advantage of a narrow window on Capitol Hill to sign and submit a petition telling Congress to change the legal definition of hemp to allow 1% THC.

Arbitrarily set by Canadian cannabis researcher Dr. Ernest Small in the 1970s, the current 0.3% limit mandated by Congress has proved to be problematic for growers, producers and manufacturers alike, and Vote Hemp and its supporters feel that action has to be taken now. Even Dr. Small agrees, more than four decades later, that “a 0.3% level is very conservative,” he told a leading industry publication. He stressed that the allowed 0.3% THC designation for hemp has had negative implications for biodiversity and the growth of the hemp market. “0.3% is proving a little problematical for those who wish to produce some cultivars,” he said. “It’s an especially stringent criterion [for] those who want to produce CBD. Most of the varieties selected for that have in excess of 0.3%…”

“We need to let Congress know that changing the definition is critical to our nascent industry, especially for farmers,” said Eric Steenstra, President of Vote Hemp. “It is not fair to producers to who are already struggling due to difficult market conditions, to risk losing their hemp crop due to it testing slightly above the current federal limit of 0.3%. We hope to submit as many signatures as we can in the next 30 days, and encourage all members of the hemp community to sign and share the petition with their friends, colleagues and co-workers.”

Protecting America’s Farmers and Jobs
Once Congress changes the definition, “there would be very few cases of America’s hemp farmers getting their crop destroyed. While the industry continues to work on more stable varieties, people would still have to be careful, but if we moved to 1%, the number of samples that would test hot would be very limited,” Steenstra said.

“Vote Hemp advocated for a higher level early on, but that didn’t make the cut in the final legislation that legalized hemp for the first time in 80 years,” Steenstra continued. “We had to work across the aisle and made a compromise to help make hemp legal back then, but now, it’s proven the current standard doesn’t work for farmers. With both the Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union having policies on the books supporting higher THC levels (1% for the Farm Bureau; 3% for the Farmers Union), that weighs in our favor.”

The petition, issued this past week, beseeches Congress that “many farmers have had their crops destroyed due to the outdated definition of hemp. The hemp industry is creating good jobs in farming and manufacturing and we need to ensure the industry can continue to grow and compete with other countries that allow higher THC levels.”

“We are hoping there will be action; there’s a desperate need,” Steenstra said. “We need to get as many people involved and to recognize that this is critical to the future of the hemp industry. We need the community to step up in a big way…and quickly.”

Steenstra also emphasized that the most important thing is to get as many farmers as possible to sign the petition. “We are upset whenever we see a farmer lose their crop because of this. It’s not acceptable. We have to let Congress know that the industry is on the verge of taking off and this limit is hurting farmers and holding us back.”

Text of the Petition
Hemp is important to the future of farming in the U.S. and will create farming and manufacturing jobs for sustainable and healthy USA grown products. The 2018 Farm Bill authorized hemp production but used an outdated definition of hemp that does not work for farmers or the hemp industry. The current definition limiting hemp to 0.3% THC has proven unworkable forcing many farmers to destroy their crops because they were slightly over the limit. We need Congress to change the definition of hemp to allow up to 1% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) so that farmers can grow hemp crops without fearing that they will later have to destroy them.

Please add your name to the petition urging Congress to redefine hemp as up to 1% THC and share this with your friends.
To Congress:

I support changing the definition of hemp to allow up to 1% THC in the plant. Many farmers have had their crops destroyed due to the outdated definition of hemp. The hemp industry is creating good jobs in farming and manufacturing and we need to ensure the industry can continue to grow and compete with other countries that allow higher THC levels. I urge Congress to change the definition of hemp now so that no more farmers will lose their crops.

Read and sign Vote Hemp’s 1% Petition: https://www.votehemp.com/petition-1percent-hemp-definition/

About Vote Hemp
Celebrating 20 years of hemp advocacy, Vote Hemp works on behalf of U.S. farmers and the hemp industry to promote fair laws, policy and legislation that promotes the growth of the hemp market. Vote Hemp has met with or supported meetings with thousands of policy makers over the years, and our education and advocacy work has helped change the conversation in states and in Congress about the potential of hemp to create economic opportunity for American farmers and businesses. For more information visit https://www.votehemp.com.

Erik Rothenberg Rest in Peace

Erik Rothenberg - Rest In PeaceOur friend and larger than life hemp hero Erik Rothenberg departed this world last Thursday, surrounded by love, family and friends.

Erik is who first turned me on to and sold us our first hemp oil. He was a hemp warrior who served on the Vote Hemp board and fought side by side against DEA when they attacked the industry in 2001.

Erik also ran a successful solar company and invented a currency called URSULA that indexes and values all that is good, true and beautiful in life (see video below). He also was the author of the seminal hemp treatise “A Renewal of Common Sense”.

He stood less than 5 ft tall but was a giant among men, cruising around in style in a gorgeous jet black 1957 Bentley he lovingly called Josephine. He cheated death more than once with good humor and trickster energy.

He also took on and went to the mat with the IRS, refusing to pay taxes for twenty years and somehow arguing his way through successfully based on deep immersion in constitutional law and incredible luck, culminating in a standoff with tax agents at his home he jiu-jitzued.

So many amazing memories of a true hemp warrior and homie.

Love you brother!
David Bronner
Cosmic Engagement Officer – Dr. Bronner’s
Board Member – Vote Hemp

Fine In The Field – July 2020

We’re All Soil Farmers Now: Actively Mitigating Climate Change With Hemp

As we dance toward triple digits again here in New Mexico today, I’m just in from the hemp field for breakfast, sipping my hemp/ginger shake and watching the usual millennial wildfires from my porch office perch. Ho-hum: another spring, another 30,000 or 100,000 acres torched in my backyard. This year’s blaze has been burning for almost a month now. Hopefully the recently erratic monsoon rains will come on schedule later this month. Sometimes it seems like the clouds are gathering. Cheerleading them hopefully from a hemp-and-vegetable field, one sees how rain dances were invented.

We hemp farmers do more than dance though. My hemp crop and yours is actively mitigating climate change. As long as you cultivate regeneratively and outdoors in your own native soil, with no plastic sheeting or synthetic chemicals, you are part of humanity’s long-shot, bottom-of-the-ninth comeback opportunity.

I speak from experience. It’s hard to overstate the dramatic temperature, moisture and air-clarity difference between inside the late-July canopy of a hemp field in the middle of a wildfire (I’ve cultivated in such a shouldn’t-be-normal situation three times and counting) and the conditions maybe ten feet outside the same field. It’s like two different planets. Or maybe two different futures.

I’m thinking today of the cool, moist Oregon field my colleague Edgar Winters and I grew while surrounded by a few hundred thousand acres of wildfire in 2018. As the seed and flowers matured, we often sat down, smack dab in the middle of the field, just for relief. Embraced by the plants we had planted seven weeks earlier, we could feel the carbon being sequestered in the very loamy consistency of the dank, rich soil where we sat, watching the hundreds of thousands of hand-shaped, contented leaves waving to us from seven feet above. Forever more, we palpably understood the impact regenerative farming around the world can have on humanity’s climate change mitigation project.

I’m feeling it again this year already in my Ranch polyculture garden (we have watermelon, pepper and tomato plant hugging some of our hemp), though the hemp plants are still young. This is victory: when hemp is just another plant in the garden (although guess which of these plants is the only one I had to pay for a $700 permit in order to grow my family superfood?). Again, I sit in moist soil with smoke on the horizon.

This saving humanity, my fellow hemp farmer/entrepreneurs, is an integral component of our industry-leading brand: by supporting the products grown and marketed by independent, farmer-owned hemp enterprises, a customer is helping allow her grandchildren to survive. Just that.

Our off-the-field job is to explain exactly how this is so. Regenerative farming, of any crop, means building healthy soil. For my latest book, I researched metrics on carbon sequestration. A growing body of research suggests that each cubic inch of topsoil we restore of the world’s farmland sequesters up to three billion tons of carbon annually. And hemp’s substantial taproots are absolutely stunning at creating the conditions that allow for the building of topsoil. As Nutiva and RE Botanicals founder John Roulac reminded me, industrial agricultural runoff is the number one polluter of oceans, while regenerative agriculture has the potential to be the leading mode of sequestering atmospheric carbon.

We’re all wise to root for an industry that helps with climate stabilization. If the regenerative farming mode catches on, farmers might even buy us humans a crucial century to get our underlying infrastructural cards in order — the goal being to thrive, rather than panic, as we glide into the post-petroleum future.

It’s hard to beat “saving our grandchildren” as a marketing tool. The real win-win, as we’ve discussed here in an earlier Fine In the Field column, is that regenerative farming wins on performance, the way the peas you pull off your own vines taste sweeter than anything in a market bin. No mass marketed hemp, no matter how pastoral its label, will be able to claim “farmer-owned.” So fear not McCBD in chain drug stores: if the small batch independent regenerative hemp farmer/entrepreneur doesn’t win ‘em on righteousness, she still wins ‘em with a superior product.

Just as they want the finest coffee, craft beer and local bread, millions of folks want the best hemp. Once they understand the value of concepts like bioavailability and organic principles, they won’t want anonymous hemp from flower isolate or fungible grain markets any more than they’d buy their meat at Burger King.

I can attest that regenerative farming is fun, but is it easy, especially for a new farmer? Well, it’s no harder than any farming. Farming, like any job done well, is hard. A lot has to go right over the course of eight months, not least mother nature smiling in a time of climate chaos.The good news is, the sun’s free, and we’ve been given the soil as a bonus gift.

All native soil, I’ve learned care of the wisdom of many colleagues and mentors over the past decade, is composed of an immensely complex microbial neighborhood; one distinct to every ecosystem on the planet – your beneficial microbes, like mycelium, are unique to your farm’s microclimate. That’s a good thing for a lot of reasons – biodiversity and native inputs – these are what our plants want most. Happy plants mean the best hemp products – and unique hemp products are the value-added edge in our top-shelf independent craft hemp marketplace. Think terroir: no hemp will taste or perform exactly like yours just as no two wine vintages are identical. Plus, nurturing native soil microbes is the step that sequesters carbon and saves humanity. In other words, it’s good to have friends in low places.

I, the farmer, get to reap the benefits of robust hemp that’s good friends with the microbes in it soil — already this year’s crop has shrugged off an unseasonable hail barrage here in the Land of Enchantment. This was about a week ago, and when I dashed out at sunrise to the field like a goat kid to stretch, give thanks, and examine the field, everything was predictably irie.

This is why step one for any farmer and farm enterprise is learning how to build their own farm’s soil. Since I’m far from an expert at this, I’m lucky that my goats give tons of manure mixed with organic alfalfa. That’s a breakfast of champions for beneficial microbes. But the first course of action for anyone ready to join the hemp renaissance is to get in the soil: test it, love it, read about it, build it. I suggest keeping good ol’ N, P and K in mind, but also look into the overall organic matter in your soil, with an eye to building the entire beneficial microbial community, especially your mycelium, or fungal community.

In conclusion, you might think you’re a hemp farmer, marketer, or customer. In truth, if survival for the grandkids is the goal, we’re all soil farmers now. And shoppers? Please look at more than price and milligrams of CBD on the label: seek out your region’s farmer-owned products. Make sure your food co-op or grocery store manager knows you’re dedicated to having regional options for regenerative hemp, for vegetables, for toothpaste, for everything. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

For the regenerative farmer/entrepreneur, hemp is not a get-rich-quick scheme. And yet I’m optimistic for us primates’ making the right decisions at this critical time. Yes, we all recognize that it’s the bottom of the ninth for humanity. But I like to recall that when Edgar and I cooled off by sitting in that blessedly damp hemp field during the 2018 wildfires, that was 500,000 permitted U.S. hemp acres ago. We’ll catch corn, soy, cotton and wheat’s 234 million combined annual acres soon enough – the same way the craft beer is slaying mass market beer, gaining a percentage point per year.

Are you in? Every regeneratively grown acre of hemp counts. We’ve got allies from all kinds of species assisting us. For one thing, all mammals have endo-cannabinoid systems. But I have a feeling it goes beyond that – birds famously love hemp seed, of course. This morning the ravens and hawks were circling even closer than usual while I checked the drip line in the field, and we caught a glimpse of the fox family with whom we’re sharing the Funky Butte Ranch bounty this year.

The soundtrack at this time a year in the high desert is native bees, hummingbirds and woodpeckers, punctuated by a cactus wren trill about every seven seconds. It seems like everybody knows hemp is a superfood and the launchpad for humanity’s recovery and revival. I’m hoping that even rabbits who have built their front door right in our hemp field remember to make our hemp a sometimes food, so there’s plenty for everybody.

Indeed the hemp continues to grow, despite the smoky air. Each morning, I sigh the same sigh of relief that every human has for the 10,000 years of farming before supermarkets: we will survive another year. The joy of seeing the first hemp sprouts emerge and bifurcate is the joy of parenthood. As I mentioned in this passage in the book American Hemp Farmer, “Oxytocin is exchanged, as in any parent-child relationship…We are hemp midwives.” Ask any midwife: it’s a pretty joyous profession to be bringing life into the world. This is no less true when your job is nurturing plants and microbes. Life is life and it is good.

About Doug Fine
Doug Fine is a comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and a solar-powered goat herder. His latest book is American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade (Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2020). He has cultivated hemp for food, farm-to-table products and seed-building in four U.S. states, and later this year will be offering an online regenerative hemp course with Acres USA. Willie Nelson calls Doug’s work “a blueprint for the America of the future.” The Washington Post says, “Fine is a storyteller in the mold of Douglas Adams.” A website of Doug’s print, radio and television work, United Nations testimony, and TED Talk is at dougfine.com and his social media handle is @organiccowboy.

Vegan Hemp Queso recipe

Vegan Hemp Queso recipe

½ cup raw hemp hearts
1 tbsp. lemon juice
½ tbsp. nutritional yeast
¼ tsp. salt (to taste)
1-2 tbsp. water
½ cup salsa

Note: adjust the heat of the queso by using mild, medium or hot salsa or add diced jalapeños


Put all ingredients in a high speed blender and blend until smooth. It’s as easy as that! This is a quick and easy dip that is also delicious and nutritious! Makes approximately 1 ½ cups or 4 servings. Serve as a dip with chips or veggies.

Vegan Hemp Queso recipe


Fine In the Field – June 2020

Fine in the Field - a column by author and hemp farmer Doug FineThe first sprouts — keikis, as folks call babies of all species in Hawaii — have joined the multi-species clan here the Funky Butte Ranch. Accordingly, I have heaved that sigh that all farmers have when they’ve taken the second key step toward superfood security for their families (the first is soil building, which by the way also is the best way to mitigate climate change). Before supermarkets, this was a common sigh. People held festivals and burst forth with prayers of gratitude.

My permit arrived nice and early this year here in the desert Southwest, as the moon was waxing right as the regenerative hemp industry is re-born. We’re very close to the finish line, when it comes to cannabis/hemp policy: Hemp is on its way to being treated as a crop as it has been for last 8,000 years. We have a few important steps to go. As we discussed in last month’s Fine In the Field column, step one is changing the federal definition of hemp to one percent THC from its absurd and arbitrary .3% definition that is causing almost 40% of farmer tests to go “hot.” Switzerland, Tasmania and Thailand are already at one percent, and the National Farmer’s Union is advocating for three percent. So one percent is an easy, sensible ask. It’s also imperative: instead of 40% of tests going hot, we’ll likely be below 5%.

Even as things stand today, being official feels so good. Just adds to the patriotism of this food security moment. But today I am in the field, where policy nuances seem so distant. If you’ve read some of my earlier work, like Farewell, My Subaru, you know that, totemically speaking, I used to be more of an animal guy. I’ve been the goat whisperer in my family, who provides the soothing cadence when Natalie Merchant or Bjork’s being feisty on the milk stand (all our goats are named for singers we like even if their voices might have something of a caprine cadence).

But plant intelligence now amazes me every day. Plants are a lot like us, trying to raise their families, drink good water and even dance a bit. And like us, a lot has to go right for a plant to want to produce offspring and come back again. Which is why I feel so especially psyched upon seeing the hemp sprouts come up on the Funky Butte Ranch this year. First off, because my family’s superfood diet looks on its way to being dialed in for another year, heaven willing. But also because these plants are my friends, my kin, part of the extended family that also includes the beneficial local microbes that feed the hemp we eat and encourage its roots to sequester carbon. Which is to say, these plants are saving our lives.

We had to do enough for them (or maybe better to say with them) last season, their genes stored in the seed we harvested last season, for them to continue life another anew this spring. It’s a solid feeling to know that in a mason jar in my cool storage room overwinter lives the coming year’s protein. And that’s before you get into the sanity-maintenance benefits of being outside in a polyculture field, communicating with all kinds of plants and critters, and most of all, breathing, breathing, and then breathing some more, from the cooling oxygen in which the crop is bathing you. The whole thing scored by a hummingbird, woodpecker and cactus symphony.

And let’s not forget the insects: bees, of course, are the new Save the Whales, it’s a good sign when a droning native bee bass-line captures your attention. Then there’s the land-based critters. I took a one-hour time-lapse of a keiki this week, and there were hundreds of insects scooting through the soil in the two-foot-square shot. They ranged in size from giant stink beetle to tiny leaf-hoppers. I’m a fan of diverse life forms in the field.

Moving one magnitude smaller, I’ve become such a fan of mycelium. It’s a ton of fun to gather beneficial fungus and brew it into compost tea for your soil – something I discuss in American Hemp Farmer, and in the new course I’ll be giving with the Acres USA folks this year. The best part of mycelium gathering is that, still in their native habitat, they find their home in your field, these tiny fungal colonies, creating white, beneficial webs in your soil: it’s a pleasure to see.

Here we begin to experience the benefits of conscious soil building. In a phrase, a better crop results. Since I see the hemp that emerges into my family’s diet from regenerative farming, now I’m learning the questions to ask the cultivators and marketers of any product I put into my body. Which reminds me, our kale and arugula have sprouted as well. Looks to be a good tomato year, too.

Since I live and cultivate in a high desert, a word on water and hemp. I just had the pleasurable experience of sinking my fingers two knuckles deep in the Ranch soil three days after planting and two days after watering. Yep – not just still damp but moist. In searing 90 degree conditions. This is another payoff of soil building. Reason #42 I love organic alfalfa and goat poop compost: there is a moisture-retaining layer that originated not fifty yards from the field. The resulting conditions are just right for a native soil nursery: these are the conditions I’d want if I was germinating.

Indeed I learned a lesson about hemp’s lack of post germination thirst last year – perhaps understandably in a parched ecosystem a few years out from a 130,000-acre wildfire. Put simply, like the doting parent that I am, I over-watered. This year, despite midday heat that has my golden retriever dashing from shady spot to shady spot, I’ve been disciplined: I’m drip irrigating for one hour, every other day, and the early sprouts seem to love it. The watering regimen is different for germination and later in the summer during the plant’s flower and seed maturation phase, but we’re blessed here with monsoon rains at that time of year, when I can nearly dry crop.

I still think about and dote on the crop nearly every waking moment like any new parent. I just checked the keikis, issued a brief reminder to the local rabbits to treat the hemp as a sometimes food, and now am back at the ranch house, drinking my morning hemp shake. Next, I’ve got to tackle a bit of that other side of hemp farmer/entrepreneur equation: thinking about the product.

For me, the actual product is easy: I make what I most want to enjoy myself. It’s thinking about packaging (expensive if you want to be regenerative which I do) and marketing (math!) that, I admit, can be a notch less fun for me. Luckily, my new partners are women who have been trusted regional providers for seven years – so our conversations are about keeping packaging, production, and even, we aspire, delivery in regenerative modes as we slowly scale up to what seems a sustainable level over the course of several years. It seems to us that even a company’s growth arc is a decision which has an impact on the future of humanity.

And that’s why if we’re wise, we independent, regenerative hemp farmer/entrepreneurs will make a concerted effort to communicate to customers that, just as fresh-squeezed OJ beats concentrate, a hemp field lovingly cultivated by the farmer/owners of the product they’re buying will likely prove the finest hemp product. This time, my friends, the farmers are in charge. And this is a good thing.

About Doug Fine
Doug Fine is a comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and a solar-powered goat herder. His latest book is American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade (Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2020). He has cultivated hemp for food, farm-to-table products and seed-building in four U.S. states, and has taught several hemp classes. Willie Nelson calls Doug’s work “a blueprint for the America of the future.” The Washington Post says, “Fine is a storyteller in the mold of Douglas Adams.” A website of Doug’s print, radio and television work, United Nations testimony, and TED Talk is at dougfine.com and his social media handle is @organiccowboy.

Pennsylvania prepares for subdued second year of hemp growing

Pennsylvania farmers have lowered their expectations as they prepare for a second year of growing hemp.

“Everybody went into this thinking they were going to make a million dollars, and that crashed real quick,” said Lee Ralph, who lives in Robinson Township and owns Full Circle Fields in Venango County.

Ralph said he managed to break even on his hemp crop last year, which puts him in a better position than many farmers after prices plummeted from $40 a pound to $10.

This year he’s being more cautious — planting only five acres instead of last year’s 15.

Planting will begin soon.

Many farmers are reevaluating their relationship with the crop, said Jeff Fowler, an educator with Penn State Extension who works with hemp farmers.

“Some of them have, I won’t say gone under, but they’re not planting hemp this year,” he said. “Some of them are growing, and growing more, and some of them are brand new.”

Despite the concerns, the state Department of Agriculture has issued 415 hemp growing permits this year, and about 200 more applications are pending.

In 2019, the state issued 324 permits.

Last year’s permits were all for farmers. This year’s count includes both farmers and processors, which were not require to get a permit in 2019. About 10% of 2020 applications were from processors, according to the Department of Agriculture.

The department does not yet have a count of how many acres of hemp farmers will plant this year. Last year’s count was about 4,000 acres.

“It was a learning year for a lot of hemp farmers,” Fowler said.

The biggest lesson is that infrastructure needs time to catch up with supply, according to Fowler. Hemp needs extensive processing to be turned into usable products like CBD oil or hemp fiber. Last year, there was too much hemp, and not enough processors. Farmers couldn’t find buyers for their products.

Farmers have learned to find a buyer before planting, Fowler said. Those that have yet to do so are working hard to line up contracts before committing to the crop.

It’s unclear whether there will be a substantial increase in processing capacity this year. The price crash has sent shock waves through the industry.

New Stanton’s Commonwealth Alternative Medicinal Options, which once seemed poised to make Westmoreland County a CBD hub, closed late last year. GenCanna, a major Kentucky hemp processor, filed for bankruptcy in February.

Ralph said he’s already found a buyer for this year’s crop, but the coronavirus pandemic caused more complications. The pandemic and related shutdowns have rocked the economy, and hemp farmers don’t know how that will impact them.

“It’s definitely a crap shoot,” Ralph said. “Who knows what the market is going to be when the coronavirus is all over?”

A U.S. Department of Agriculture program will provide $19 billion in emergency coronavirus aid to farmers, but hemp farmers currently are not eligible to receive that aid, according to legal news site Law360. That could change if the industry can show the pandemic had a significant impact on hemp prices.

The 2018 federal Farm Bill fully legalized hemp for the first time since the 1930s, though some Pennsylvania farmers started growing hemp in 2017 under a limited pilot program.

A recent report by the USDA said the future of hemp is uncertain, but it probably will remain a specialty crop, dominated by a few states, rather than a profitable option for every farmer.

“We are taking a long view and we believe this approach will sustain and grow a robust Pennsylvania hemp industry in the future,” state Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Shannon Powers said in a statement. “Interest in 2019 was overwhelming, and we expect a continued high level of interest in this promising crop.”

Fowler said it’s too early to predict whether Pennsylvania will manage to develop a thriving hemp industry, but farmers are ready to give it another shot.

“They are gearing up and ready to go again,” Fowler said.

Content from: https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/pennsylvania-prepares-for-subdued-second-year-of-hemp-growing/.