By DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Last month, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 57 into law, decriminalizing hemp and paving the way for the development of a new hemp industry. S.B. 57 creates a hemp cultivator license as well as a hemp processing license program to be administered by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA).
The hemp program sets up a licensing structure for farmers who are interested in growing the crop, and for those interested in processing it. It also allows for universities to grow and cultivate hemp for research purposes. ODA will administer the newly-created program.
Dorothy Pelanda, director of ODA, said the process for the new hemp industry in the state will include a structured procedure. “The No. 1 goal here for the ODA is education,” she said.
“ODA has now launched a new website, has a Facebook page, and will have six phone lines waiting to answer any questions about what hemp is, when it can be grown, the process needed for applying for a license, and how to research this hemp. Our goal is to take the growers’ information and educate them to this whole process.”
Hemp is a cousin to the marijuana plant that does not produce intoxicating effects and is grown for its many industrial uses. Hemp contains a fiber, a grain, and oil that can be extracted for cannabidiol, or CBD, oil, which is now being used in food and dietary supplements.
The Ohio House voted 88-3 to pass the hemp legalization bill and also voted to include an emergency clause that was needed in part so farmers may plant hemp as soon as possible, as it is expected to become a huge cash crop for the state’s growers.
“We anticipate that farmers will be able to grow hemp in Ohio next spring,” Pelanda said. “There’s a process for us to set forth, as to the rules and regulations about how to go about it. Ohio State University ag officials will come into play, making sure it can be grown in northeast Ohio, southwest Ohio, and elsewhere.”
Applicants will have to obtain a license to grow hemp. Licenses will also be required for hemp processors and some research facilities. The licenses are not yet available, but the goal is to have parties licensed and able to plant the crop by the spring of 2020.
“Whether to grow hemp is a decision that farmers will have to make based on what their particular needs are and what’s in their best interest,” DeWine said. “This crop is just an additional crop that they can now legally grow. They’re going to have to see if there’s a market for that.”
Hemp and the still-illegal marijuana are both species of cannabis but they have different properties. Marijuana contains much more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than hemp. THC is the part of cannabis that can cause a psychoactive effect in certain concentrations, but hemp plants generally do not contain enough to product a “high,” and its properties can be used in a large variety of products.
ODA will need $12 million to start its testing facility and to bring lab technicians on board. The cost will include buying equipment to test plants and hemp products. Until state testing and labeling rules are approved, agency officials will check products for unauthorized health claims and conditions that don’t meet food safety guidelines.
Before the hemp program can be fully operational in Ohio, rules still need to be developed by ODA; then the state program will be sent to USDA for its approval.
“A big partner in all this going forward will be law enforcement,” Pelanda said. “That will be vital. A big part of the hemp is an IT (information technology) program, or a mapping process, one that will help create a technological map of one’s farm. This information will be shared by local and state law enforcement so they know it is a legal crop. And as you know, hemp and marijuana look similar in the field.”
Pelanda said agriculture staff members have spent the last year studying hemp programs in other states and will be able to enact rules and regulations within the six-month time frame allotted by law. In addition, research at OSU is underway, as the school plans to buy about 2,000 hemp plants this month.
“ODA plans to craft regulations to ensure farmers plant seeds that are certified to be low in THC, and we want to make sure that Ohio has the very best hemp program in the nation.”
ODA does not plan to limit the number of licenses issued to cultivate or process hemp.
Gary Pierzynski, associate dean for research and graduate programs at OSU’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, said it’s too late to plant hemp with the goal of harvesting. But he hopes this first crop at four locations will position them for good research on growing methods, plant diseases, pests, and more next year.
“Ohio Farm Bureau views hemp production in Ohio as a good opportunity for farmers to diversify their crop options, and we look forward to working with ODA on the new program,” said Tony Seegers, Farm Bureau director of state policy.
Industry analysts predict the U.S. hemp market will grow from about $4.6 billion now to more than $26 billion by 2023. The Farm Bureau has said it has the potential to be Ohio’s No. 3 crop behind corn and soybeans. This is the 46th state to allow hemp farming.