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USDA's About-Face On Organic Hemp Leaves Growers In Limbo

Luke Runyon
KUNC, Harvest Public Media
Industrial hemp can grow more than ten feet tall. The plant, which can resemble marijuana grown for medical or recreational use, usually lacks THC, the chemical that gives users a high.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reversed course on its organic certification of industrial hemp operations throughout the country.

A handful of hemp farms, including Colorado-based CBDRx, had secured, or were in the process of securing, certifications from third-party auditors following a directive from the USDA's National Organic Program staff allowing hemp to be certified organic.

"Organic certification of industrial hemp production at this time is premature and could be misleading to certified organic operations," reads a published instruction [.pdf] from the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service.

"The legality of the various uses of this product has not yet been determined. Until USDA guidance regarding industrial hemp production under the Farm Bill is completed, NOP-accredited certifying agents may not certify the domestic production of industrial hemp," the document continues.

That leaves farms that secured the certification before the USDA backtracked in bureaucratic limbo. Some of those companies are using the USDA organic seal to market products.

In an email, a USDA spokesman noted the department doesn't intend to take action with regard to current certified operations at this time. The USDA has also told third-party auditing firms not to certify additional hemp operations in the country as organic.

The dispute over whether or not to certify hemp as organic puts the plant's murky legal status on full display. Colorado lawmakers are attempting to establish a state standard for organic cultivation of cannabis in the absence of federal direction. Consumer fraud regulators in the state are already looking at dispensaries and edible manufacturers for potentially misleading consumers on organic practices.

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