September 16, 2021

Hemp in holding pattern

Industry waits on guidelines from NY, fed agencies

Photos by Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Bret Morris of McGraw, the farm manager for Main Street Farms in Cortland, shows off 40 acres of hemp the farm is growing Tuesday in Cortlandville. Delays in regulation have meant uncertainty for both farmers and processors of hemp and CBD oil, leading some processors to close and some farmers to reduce acreage.</p

As hemp growers prepare to harvest their crop, many questions still remain about the future of hemp, with growers, processors and manufacturers left waiting on two federal agencies and the state to decide how to regulate the industry.

“We have these, like, three government agencies that regulate parts of the plant and none of them talk to each other or agree on what they’re doing,” said Allan Gandelman, who grows hemp at Main Street Farms in Cortland and is an owner of New York Hemp Oil in Cortland.

That waiting is delaying Gandelman’s plans to expand.

It’s a factor, too, in a Broome County hemp processor getting out of the business earlier this month. Great Eastern Hemp seeks to unload a Broome County building it bought last year for $2.2 million to process CBD.

Gandelman said he is playing a waiting game with all three agencies. For years Gandelman, along with other processors have been waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to release guidelines for putting hemp in supplements, foods and beverages.

Because the FDA hasn’t released guidelines, the state passed its own law to set guidelines on products, but those guidelines haven’t been released yet.

“They should be released like this week or next week actually, like we’re really close,” Gandelman said.

Once those guidelines are set, though, Gandelman said he would be able to expand the processing portion of his business, but the number of products he could expand by is remains undetermined.

“We won’t really know until the guidelines come out,” he said, “There’s a lot of interest in putting CBD (cannabidiol) into food and beverages.”

On top of waiting for the FDA and state guidelines, Gandelman said the U.S. Department of Agriculture set new stricter hemp farming regulations that have raised concerns that smaller farms may back out of the industry.

One of the guidelines is that the USDA would test the hemp plants to ensure the THC level isn’t higher than 0.3%. If it is above .5%, the hemp would be considered marijuana and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency would be able to file criminal charges.

“It doesn’t happen that often, but it does happen,” Gandelman said. “You have environmental factors. It’s a very new crop, genetics are unstable, you know you could get to 0.5 % potentially. If you do, could you imagine the small farm, now the DEA has the right to come in and arrest you or file charges? Who knows what they’re going to do.”

Until recently, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets had been regulating the growing of hemp. However, Gandelman said when the USDA issued its guidelines, the state decided to turn all hemp-farming regulations over to the USDA.

But that move has left farmers in the dark about the future, Gandelman said.

“That just happened and nobody knows what that means yet because for the last five years hemp has been grown across the country and all the programs have been run by the state departments of agriculture in their respective states,” he said.

Gandelman said he will apply for a permit with the USDA to grow next year, but “whether or not we’ll want to grow hemp under that permit is still to be decided.”

In the meantime Gandelman said he will continue to work with federal officials like Sen. Chuck Schumer to change the USDA laws.

Trever Sherman, the owner of Ithaca Organics in Freeville, said he’s also concerned about the hemp industry.

“It’s a huge concern,” he said. “We’ve been waiting in New York state for awhile.”

He grew only seven acres of hemp this year — down from 40 — because there was so much hemp grown in the state last year. He also said he needed to read more about the new USDA guidelines and is unsure of what he’ll do next year: whether he’ll go back to 40 acres, stay at seven acres or do something entirely different.

“It’s contingent on what happens over the next few months,” he said.