New York’s hemp and cannabis industry, facing a potential shutdown at the end of the month, has been given life for another year.
The state’s two-year-old hemp pilot program will be extended through the end of September 2021, giving the industry “some breathing room,” according to Allan Gandelman, president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association.
The program had been scheduled to expire Oct. 31, potentially leaving the 700 hemp growers and 100 processors across the state in legal limbo, without valid operating permits.
The extension is welcome, but still leaves the cannabis industry in a “gray area,” said Gandelman, who is also owner of Head + Heal, a hemp grower and processor in Cortland. “At least now there’s some peace of mind, so hemp farmers can sleep at night.”
But the state’s cannabis industry, best known for helping supply CBD-infused products, is still looking for a permanent set of rules and regulations. The broad outline for the industry was included in a bill that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law late last year, but the specifics and permit process have not been defined.
“In this industry, I get used to living permanently in a gray area,” Gandelman said. Last month he joined in a statewide campaign asking Cuomo to issue the specific regulations.
That still hasn’t happened. Instead, the decision by the state Department of Agriculture & Markets extends the current rules, which came into effect after the approval 2018 federal farm bill. That bill legalized the production of industrial hemp. The state’s pilot program authorizes “research” in the growing of hemp and the processing of its components into consumer products.
Hemp is a species of cannabis, like marijuana, but does not produce as much THC, the compound that creates the marijuana ‘high.” CBD (cannabidiol) extracted from hemp is a non-psychoactive compound that is touted by its advocates for health benefits and is used in products like salves, tinctures and ointments. Under federal law, the extract used in those products must contain less than 0.3% THC.
At issue now is a lack of consensus between state regulators and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on how to proceed. Under the 2018 farm law, the state is required to submit a plan to the USDA in order to maintain authority over the hemp industry.
In a letter to the state’s hemp growers in August, New York Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball wrote, “It is the (state Ag & Markets) Department’s view that many of the (federal) requirements concerning the scope and timing of sampling and testing, the disposal of non-compliant plants, and reporting are unrealistic and impose unreasonable burdens on growers and any state interested in administering a compliant program.”
In his letter, Ball also said the state would ask the USDA to extend the existing program into 2021 if an agreement could not be reached.
Gandelman credited U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer with helping broker the extension and the Ag & Markets department for following through.
Now, Gandelman said, attention turns back to state’s existing Hemp Extracts law, and the regulations needed for growers and processors to operate under it.
That law sets out procedures for the licensing of industrial hemp growers and extract manufacturers and establishes what are likely the nation’s strictest testing and labeling requirements. The bill was approved by state lawmakers last year in the wake of their failure to approve a bill legalizing adult recreational use of marijuana.
The state’s hemp industry welcomed the strict requirements, arguing they could elevate New York’s cannabis products to a higher quality and bar inferior out-of-state products.
If and when Cuomo’s administration does set out new rules and guidelines, there is still one area that will not be covered: The Hemp Extracts law as signed does not specifically allow CBD to be added to food and beverages.
Though it is possible to find CBD in food and beverages on the market, the state’s Agriculture & Markets department has declared them illegal, based on current guidelines from the federal Food & Drug Administration.
In signing the Hemp Extracts law last year, Cuomo said he would defer action on food and beverage with CBD until a “summit” on the hemp/CBD industry he hoped to convene last spring. The coronavirus pandemic derailed that plan.