The 2014 US Farm Bill signed last week by President Obama has a provision for the cultivation of industrial hemp for research purposes at the state level. This provision will be in effect for the next five years.
The provision builds on years of lobbying efforts by activists, advocates, hemp business and farming associations and the championship of the bills by elected representatives at the state and federal level.
Refer to Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill.
Ten states have appropriate legislation that will allow them to grow hemp for research in 2014. In order to take advantage of this new opportunity, other states will have to either create new research-orientated legislation, amend legislation that is already on the table or to derive research guidelines from existing statues. Since legislative calendars vary state by state local advocates will have to determine what tactics makes sense.
Ten states: California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia (depicted in green) have defined industrial hemp as distinct and removed barriers to its production, while two states: Nebraska and Indiana (depicted in grey) are on the verge of passing industrial hemp legislation.
Research Brings Real Opportunities
In general, states that have passed commercial hemp laws have a form of licensing/registration. With this new federal provision, researchers affiliated with the state Ag department or relevant college, or university would be the holders of the hemp license. Farmer co-operators can participate in these trials as long as their work falls under the umbrella of the licensed research.
There are numerous forms research could take, ranging from modest variety trials to more ambitious commercial scale pilot projects including start up processing and market development initiatives. Conceivably if there is enough public and private sector funding, many hundreds of acres could be seeded, hundreds of bales of fiber and thousands of bushels of grain could be harvested in the next few years. That’s a comfortable ceiling.
Farmers and businesses hoping to grow hemp on a commercial basis still have to contend with barriers at the Federal level. The success of research projects over the next half decade will help make the case and go a long way towards aiding the passage of legal commercial regulations federally. Without those regulations, would-be commercial farmers could still be subject to such nonsense as crop raids, civil asset forfeiture of property, charges that could lead to jail time, and legal expenses. That said, there is now some oxygen in the room. Hopefully some clear thinking will follow.
The Big Ten
Ten states (California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia) have defined industrial hemp as distinct and removed barriers to its production.
Governor Jerry Brown signed a Commercial Hemp Bill in the fall of 2013. California has valuable and rich farmland chock full of diverse crops. Land costs may be high, and water could be an issue. There are many enviable large urban markets in the state. Dr. Bronner’s and Nutiva are both vociferous hemp advocate and current volume hempseed importer and processors.
An early leader. State legislation efforts began under State Senator Lloyd Casey back in the 1990’s. Changes to Drug Policy in 2012 through ballot initiative led to an obvious opportunity for hemp. Colorado farmer Ryan Loflin planted 60 acres in 2013, as part of a proposed remediation trial, despite the fact that farmers were not yet allowed to register to grow the crop. Note that there is a 10-acre ceiling for research and May 1st, 2014 is the registration deadline.
Senator minority leader Mitch McConnell was instrumental in arranging for the hemp research provision to be included in this year’s Farm Bill. Bluegrass state of Kentucky has been a home for many advocates of industrial hemp for the past two decades. Strong grassroots lobbying effort helped send hemp to the Capital. Kentucky has a rich hemp fiber heritage, and the reintroduction of this new crop will be regulations developed by the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission
Hemp regulations in Maine were passed in 2009, with proponents looking to grow hemp as an alternative fiber. Licenses would be issued by Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. A provision for research was developed in 2003. Climate and soils are seen as appropriate. Will hemp find a place among wheat, cheese, hops, and blueberries?
Thirty thousand farms in Montana and more cattle than people, big crops include beef, wheat, oilseeds and legumes. Hemp legislation was passed in 2001. A US leader in organic production, there probably is a strong niche for hemp to get started in. Close proximity to major Canadian hemp production region means ease of technology and knowledge transfer.
State legislator Dave Monson and farmer Wayne Hague once sued the federal government in an effort to overturn the prohibition on hemp. The state is well positioned to take advantage of existing and current business knowledge due to close proximity to Canada. Large acres of hemp’s bast fiber cousin flax is known and grown here. A $200 million-dollar sunflower seed industry shows that ND has high volume seed oil crushing capacity.
Oregon passed a commercial hemp law in 2009 and recently formed a rules advisory that is in the process of developing regulations for industrial hemp that will now be expected to have a research component. Many businesses in Oregon manufacture, market and sell hemp products, including The Merry Hempsters and Living Harvest. Oregon is home to diverse ecologies and terrain so research should be very fruitful.
So nice they passed it twice. Vermont’s legislative passed regulations in 2008 and the state’s then governor declined to veto the bill saying, “The consequence of this bill is so low, so insignificant, that it doesn’t rise to the level of a gubernatorial veto.” Time moves forward, and the legislature passed a second more progressive law in 2013 that cuts away some of the regulatory hurdles and hassles.
A 2012 ballot initiative decriminalized marijuana in small quantities and have authorized the Washington to license, regulate and tax production. Hemp regulations have not yet been issued, but there is authority to do so. Long time hemp watchers can note with some irony that marijuana has become the stalking horse for hemp, but there it is. The state senate is deliberating over a bill that would allow Washington State University (WSU) to study the feasibility and possible value of an industrial hemp industry in Washington. Both the State Ag department and WSU seem keen.
Passed its hemp Act back in 2002 and has been patiently waiting for the federal regulations to change or clear up. In recent years, work has been put to remove the federal licensing barriers from applying to state law. Interestingly, WV’s original hemp law recognized industrial hemp as having no more than 1 percent THC, rather than 0.3%, which is the usual standard found internationally.
And Then There Was More…?
The Farm Bill continues to stimulate legislative action on industrial hemp. More states are in hurry up mode and getting legislation ready. Breakin’ and of note:
The State Senate recently voted to for a bill, that would enable farmers to legally grow industrial hemp. There would be a proposed annual fee of $150 in addition to $2 for every acre of hemp planted. Crop inspections would be part of the regulatory regime. This bill now moves to the House for a vote. Indiana advocates cited the Kentucky example and did not want to miss out on a competitive opportunity. Of course, commercial farming would still be subject to Federal licensing and restrictions.
A hemp bill was recently introduced to the state legislature. Proposed regulations would require an annual $150 permit from the Department of Agriculture, a legal description of the land and criminal background checks. Because of agricultural history, feral hemp grows widely across Nebraska. Any regulation would have to account for that agronomic reality. It is also a potential genetic gift. No final decision has yet been taken on the state bill.
More states to come…