The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) clarified on Friday that hemp seeds can be imported into the U.S., and that the Justice Department no longer has a role in that process.
While USDA is still developing regulations for hemp cultivation under the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized the crop and its derivatives, farmers can still obtain seeds in the meantime.
The agriculture legislation “removed hemp and hemp seeds from DEA authority for products containing THC levels not greater than 0.3 percent” and “DEA no longer has authority to require hemp seed permits for import purposes.”
“U.S. producers and hemp seed exporters have requested assistance from USDA to provide an avenue for hemp seed exports to the United States,” the department wrote in a bulletin. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates the importation of all seeds for planting to ensure safe agricultural trade. Under this authority, USDA is providing an alternative way for the safe importation of hemp seeds into the United States.”
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) is among those who’ve requested assistance related to hemp importations. Earlier this month, he told Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that the DEA was blocking Montana farmers from importing hemp seeds.
Perdue said during the hearing that the matter was “news to me” and explained that farmers can import and cultivate hemp under the research-focused provisions in the prior 2014 version of the legislation while the USDA worked to enact new regulations.
In a letter sent to the acting administrator of Customs and Border Protect (CBP) on Tuesday, Tester and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) raised the concern again, imploring CBP to update its policy to reflect that hemp seeds can be lawfully imported. The letter was obtained by the industry advocacy group Vote Hemp.
The USDA bulletin specified how the process works for imports from Canada and other countries.
Importation of Hemp Seed from Canada
“Hemp seeds can be imported into the United States from Canada if accompanied by either: 1) a phytosanitary certification from Canada’s national plant protection organization to verify the origin of the seed and confirm that no plant pests are detected; or 2) a Federal Seed Analysis Certificate (SAC, PPQ Form 925) for hemp seeds grown in Canada.”
Importation of Hemp Seed from Countries other than Canada
“Hemp seeds may be imported into the United States from countries other than Canada if accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate from the exporting country’s national plant protection organization to verify the origin of the seed and confirm that no plant pests are detected.
Hemp seed shipments may be inspected upon arrival at the first port of entry by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to ensure USDA regulations are met, including certification and freedom from plant pests.”
The rulemaking process for hemp may take some time, as Perdue said the department would not expedite the regulations and will be “taking this slow.” Once the USDA has a regulatory framework in place, it will begin approving state plans, and those states will be the primary regulators.
For the time being, however, there’s nothing stopping farmers from collecting certified hemp seeds. Not even the DEA.