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State policies regarding marijuana have been under deliberation throughout the United States for the past decade. With many states legalizing cannabis for medical and recreational use, Tennessee is one of the few states that has made little progress on the matter, aside from its farming population. In 2018, the hemp growing industry was legalized federally, meaning licensed farmers can grow this crop. Opening up this industry to Tennessee farmers has made the state one of the leading producers in the country. According to a USA Today report, Tennessee has seen a 1,581 percent increase of hemp farmers throughout the state, with 3,800 registered growers as of November 1, 2019. These farmers are licensed to grow up to 51,000 acres of hemp throughout Tennessee, which equates to approximately 10 percent of all of the licensed acreage in the United States. New federal regulations have been released for those participating in the 2020 planting season, and with Tennessee’s high percentage of participation, it is important that state farmers and consumers understand the rules being established to avoid facing drug charges.

Details of the Regulations

On Oct. 31, 2019, the USDA released draft regulations that apply to hemp farmers nationwide. These changes focus specifically on the testing protocols used for the crop. Farmers may be able to grow the same plant that produces marijuana; however, regulations remain in place to limit the level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) present in the plant. THC is the psychoactive component found in hemp that causes the “high” that legislators continue to ban in Tennessee. According to these recent regulations, farmers will be deemed negligent if the THC content present in their crops reaches 0.5 percent, since the legal limit is 0.3 percent. If these crops continue to reach higher levels of concentration for multiple years, the grower risks having his or her license suspended. These “draft rules” will act as a guide for the 2020 growing season, and the final rules will be established in November 2021.

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