USDA’s Interim Rules Raise Questions, Possible Jeopardy for Cultivators

By William Sumner, Hemp Business Journal

Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its interim rules for the federal domestic hemp production program. For most state-led hemp programs, no changes are forthcoming, though one notable exception affecting hemp testing represents a major issue.

Under the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is defined as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant… with a Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” The USDA’s interim rules share that definition. Yet, buried in the text are new testing standards which fundamentally change that definition, thereby presenting a risk to cultivators.

The new rules state that hemp samples “must be tested using post-decarboxylation or other similarly reliable analytical methods where the total THC concentration level reported accounts for the conversion of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) into THC.”

Parsing the difference between THC and THCA

To casual observers, it may seem a non-issue; THC is THC. Yet, that is not entirely accurate: While THC is the chemical component responsible for the intoxicating effect of cannabis, THCA is a non-psychoactive compound having very different properties. When THCA is heated, it goes through a process called decarboxylation, thereby converting to THC.

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