USDA’s Hemp Testing Rules: What Do They Mean For You?


The Agricultural Act of 2018, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill, made hemp legal at the federal level. However, the victory was partial since the “legal” hemp industry continues to be highly regulated. For as long as cannabis remains to be a schedule 1 drug and thus federally illegal, hemp will continue to remain under tight surveillance. The crux of the matter lies in the legal definition of hemp: hemp that contains no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight.

The THC has to be reported on a “dry-weight” basis as stipulated by the 2018 Farm Bill to limit errors.

Since legal hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC by dry weight, assessing the concentration of THC in each hemp sample is imperative. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has regulatory oversight over the sampling and testing of hemp at a federal level.

The USDA requires the hemp testing be conducted by independent third-party labs and that the results be published with accompanying certificates of analysis (COAs). For assuring test result accuracy and maximizing efficiency, automation via a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is necessary.

New laboratory testing guidelines were released as a “final rule” on 15th January 2021, and are to take effect from 22nd March 2021.

Consequently, all hemp testing labs must brace up and implement the new changes to remain in compliance with the law.

Changes Made in the Final Rule: Hemp Sampling & Testing

1. Changes in sampling method

The sampling method is performance-based (involving several parameters) as opposed to using a “representative sample.” This gives the state and tribal programs more flexibility.

2. Changes in sampling procedures

In the new rules, samples can be taken from 5-8 inches from the “main stem,” “terminal bud” or “central cola.” This should reduce the incidence of “hot hemp.”

3. Negligence limit raised from 0.5% to 1% THC

For a long time, the 0.3% threshold has posed a significant challenge to hemp producers. It leaves little wiggle room, if any, for error on the farmers’ part that may be as a result of variances in soil, climate, or hemp phenotype. Inherent weaknesses in sampling and testing techniques may also affect THC potency results.

The final rule that was released early this year is more understanding of the challenges encountered by hemp producers.

Initially, hemp that tested above 0.5% THC was considered to be in violation of federal laws. This negligence limit has been pushed to 1%. However, when the THC level surpasses 0.3% THC, it is no longer considered hemp but cannabis which is a controlled substance. This means that it needs to be destroyed according to the DEA requirements.

Additionally, hemp farmers will be given a maximum of 1 negligent violation within a growing season in a calendar year. This will prevent instances where farmers get penalized for multiple violations in different locations in the same growing season which could trigger a five-year ban.

4. Extension of grace period for testing labs that are not DEA certified

Another requirement is that laboratory analysis must be carried out by independent laboratories that are registered and approved by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). This has posed yet another significant hurdle since such labs are limited in number.

However, the USDA reckons that DEA-certified labs are limited. Hence, this requirement will not be enforced fully until 31st December 2022. The DEA is working hard to accelerate the approval of the same.

5. Extension of harvesting period after hemp has been tested

Hemp farmers have also been given an extension of the grace period to harvest their crop after it has been tested. While initially they had a maximum of 15 days, this has been adjusted to 30 calendar days to accommodate for variables.

6. Disposal of hot hemp

The disposal of “hot-hemp” has also been a thorny issue to hemp farmers due to the financial losses that are involved. With the final rule, hemp farmers are now allowed to salvage some parts (minus the flowers) of the hot hemp. However, THC extraction is not allowable.

The final rule will take full effect on Dec 31, 2021, after the interim rule sunsets, and all the state and tribal hemp programs will have to comply. However, these rules are yet to be reviewed by the Biden administration.


What is the Importance of LIMS in Hemp Testing Labs?

A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is vital if a hemp testing laboratory is to remain in compliance with the rules and regulations governing THC testing. Each laboratory is not only required to accurately test for THC but to go a further step to generate COAs and to share this information with relevant authorities such as the USDA. With a Cannabis LIMS, a hemp testing laboratory can seamlessly keep track of all this information and disseminate it across different channels.

A LIMS helps to:

  • Manage the numerous samples for testing
  • Manage the test results
  • Flag samples that are above the set THC threshold
  • Generate certificates of analysis (COAs)
  • Disseminate information generated
  • Ensure data accuracy and integrity
  • Automate testing workflows and save on costs and time

The repercussions of failing to comply with the hemp testing rules are significant and could lead to hefty penalties for your client in case of inaccurate results. Consequently, it is important to ensure accuracy and efficiency in your laboratory testing procedures for hemp samples.

Do you have a reliable LIMS that delivers beyond your expectations?

You can never quite know until you explore your options.