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Indiana, Nebraska and North Dakota among states now allowing industrial hemp research or cultivation

by Carolyn Orr ~ September 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Will industrial hemp eventually become a viable cash crop for the Midwest’s agricultural producers and rural communities? Three states in the region have taken initial steps to begin exploring the possibility, and the new farm bill is also opening up the opportunity for research and pilot programs across the country.
Changes to federal law, in fact, are what prompted Indiana and Nebraska to adopt hemp laws of their own this year. Indiana now allows production of industrial hemp, with growers required to obtain a license and subject to periodic inspections (SB 357).
The Nebraska law (LB 1001) allows post-secondary institutions and the state Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. This language is in line with the new farm bill, which only permits state departments of agriculture and colleges to grow hemp (and only if state law allows it).
A third Midwestern state, North Dakota, also has an industrial-hemp law; its statute dates back to 2007 and was the first of its kind in the country.
Fast-forward to today, and 17 U.S. states now have laws that allow for hemp cultivation or research. Few if any states have advanced further than Colorado, which began a new registration and inspection process for hemp producers earlier this year.
“The hope is that hemp can provide a cash crop to growers and economic development to rural communities through processing facilities that produce the 25,000 products that can be made from hemp,” Ron Carleton, deputy director of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, said during a presentation this summer to the Midwestern Legislative Conference.
Right now, though, it is just a “hope” — even in states that have been at the forefront of legalizing industrial-hemp production and research.
Across the border in Canada, Jim Maloway, a member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, says it took almost 15 years for hemp to provide much value as a product in his home province. (Canada lifted its ban on hemp cultivation in 1998.)
“Today, hemp grows on about 12,000 acres in Manitoba,” he says. The province has four processors, he adds, and the biggest market for the products is China.
The seed from hemp can be used in various food products, while the oil is increasingly an ingredient in personal care products.
And Indiana Rep. Bill Friend hopes new research could one day make hemp a medicinal tool as well — for example, to help children suffering from seizures.
“[That could be] one of the greatest opportunities provided by hemp production, both for potential patients and growers,” Friend says.
According to Carleton, a slew of issues had to be addressed in response to Colorado’s new law — for example, determining the cost of registration, the percentage of growers to test, and what to do with plants found to have unacceptably high levels of THC (the major psychoactive ingredient of the cannabis plant).
At least initially, growers in Colorado will not be suspended if their crops have THC levels that exceed state standards. “The grower would be required to destroy it on the property,” Carleton says.
Colorado requires, too, that any hemp produced in the state be processed there as well. Processing, in fact, is where Carleton sees the most economic potential, but no such facilities yet exist within the state’s borders.
“No one is willing to invest in a processing infrastructure until there is enough hemp to make it economically feasible,” he says, “and yet there probably won’t be enough hemp produced until there are processing facilities.”
Another major obstacle is the existing conflict between state and federal laws. Amid all of the recent state activity, the federal government still considers hemp production illegal. Enforcement of this ban is unlikely, however. Meanwhile, congressional proposals have been introduced to remove the federal prohibition on domestic cultivation and place such decisions in the hands of states.

 

Article written by Carolyn Orr, staff liaison for the Midwestern Legislative Conference Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee. The committee's co-chairs are Indiana Rep. Bill Friend and Minnesota Rep. Rick Hansen.