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Christopher Tomlinson/The Daily Sentinel

Ted Kelly, general manager at EcoGen Labs, stands next to some of the hemp the company produces at the old Grand Junction Steel building.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is abandoning a proposed rule that would have required hemp growers to have their crops tested for THC levels — the chemical in marijuana that produces the “high” — at Drug Enforcement Agency approved labs.

This requirement was cited by local hemp growers, as well as the Colorado Department of Agriculture, as an onerous requirement that could hamper the growth of the industry.

In January, the state submitted its response to the USDA’s interim final rule, which included its concerns about the DEA lab requirement. The response requested changes to several other provisions within the rule as well.

“I don’t think they (USDA) would have been able to manage,” local hemp grower Katey Herland said. “It would have been really hard if we had the same amount of product needing to be tested at around the same times as we did last year. Had that been the circumstance, then there would not have been any feasible way for anybody to get their products tested.”

Gov. Jared Polis also praised the rule change and said he was happy the federal agency was listening to concerns raised by the state.

“Colorado is leading the way when it comes to hemp production and cultivation,” Polis said in a statement. “I’m relieved that the USDA and Secretary Perdue are recognizing the concerns that Colorado raised in our comments on the interim final rule. This move will help create more job opportunities, will help our farmers and our economy.”

Herland said the USDA was also opening more options for the disposal of “hot” hemp crops — crops that test above the 0.3% THC allowed by law.

It originally said it would only allow burning, but has opened other options for growers.

“I hope that we will use this as an advantage to us as farmers to prove that we are capable of managing and handling this crop without the government’s oversight and regulation, anymore than we already have,” Herland said.

These changes will make growing the hemp industry easier in the coming years, Herland said.

There are other issues in the USDA’s new rules Herland said she is hoping will also be changed, but that there haven’t been any other announcements yet.

She said going forward the hemp industry should collect more information on its own about the genetics of the hemp plants to determine how they grow in different regions and conditions.

“It’s kind of to-be-determined on whether or not we get the rest of these issues addressed,” Herland said. “I think this opens up an opportunity for the industry to really hunker down and focus on some solid (research and development) that includes data collection.”

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