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North Dakota aims to be first state to license hemp farmers

Agriculture.com Staff 11/25/2015 @ 4:20am

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson proposed rules yesterday to license farmers in his state to grow industrial hemp under existing state law.

He will hold a public hearing on the rules June 15 in Bismarck, prior to publishing final rules later this year. "Ratification of these rules is an important step in the process of enabling farmers to grow and sell this potentially valuable crop," Johnson said in a press release. "We already have legislation in place that puts North Dakota well ahead of other states in working to legalize production of industrial hemp."

Johnson said that since 1999, the state legislature has passed several significant bills related to hemp cultivation. These proposed rules would implement that legislation. He cautioned, however, that ratification of the rules will not legalize industrial hemp production in North Dakota. "The final decision is a federal matter," he said. "It is very likely that some congressional action will be necessary to bring about a major change in federal policy."

In February, Johnson and agriculture commissioners from three other states met with Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials in Washington, D.C., to explore acceptable rules on industrial hemp farming. The meeting was the first of its kind between hemp-friendly policymakers and the DEA, which has threatened to prosecute anyone who grows non-psychoactive hemp in the U.S.

Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana and West Virginia have also passed pro-hemp farming laws, but North Dakota’s rules would afford the first opportunity for individuals to seek federal permits for state-sanctioned commercial hemp production. The Hawaii law did allow a researcher to obtain permits to grow and study industrial hemp there from 1999 to 2003.

In order to become licensed to grow commercial hemp, the proposed rules would require that North Dakota farmers consent to a criminal background check, agree to document all sales, provide GPS coordinates for hemp fields, and agree to plant hemp that contains less than three-tenths of one percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The industrial form of hemp contains only trace amounts of the psychoactive drug THC found in marijuana, although DEA does not currently distinguish industrial hemp apart from marijuana. The proposed rules may be viewed online here.

"Industrial hemp is now cultivated on a large scale in Canada, since the ban was lifted there nine years ago," Johnson said. "The crop obviously could do well in North Dakota." More than 50,000 acres in Canada are planted to industrial hemp.

Industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa) is widely grown around the world and is used in the manufacture of textiles, papers and rope. The seed is also used for food and feed, and oil derived from the plant is used in cosmetics, paints and medicinal compounds. It was grown in the U.S. until federal regulations prohibited it 50 years ago.

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