Farmers in nearly 30 U.S. states are cultivating hemp for research, pilot program, and commercial purposes.
Over recent years, legislatures in several states have helped expand the cultivation of industrial hemp throughout the United States. While hemp is still federally illegal under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 due to its familial connection to marijuana, the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill opened up hemp cultivation to universities and state departments of agriculture.
At least 28 states have taken advantage of this opportunity and put laws in place related to industrial hemp cultivation. Most states strictly allow cultivation for pilot or research purposes, but a few have established commercial hemp programs.
Here’s a look at the latest hemp farming developments throughout the U.S.:
The passage of a recent bill in Alabama will allow for the production and research of industrial hemp in Alabama. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ken Johnson (R-Mounton), redefines marijuana under the law to not include hemp and authorizes the Department of Agriculture and Industries to collaborate with a cooperative that includes Alabama A&M and Auburn University. Farming is expected to begin sometime next year.
On July 1, the production of industrial hemp for commercial purposes became lawful. House Bill 699, passed earlier this year by the Virginia legislature, amended the current state law on hemp and created a framework for hemp businesses, processors, and farmers to grow and process hemp for any purpose. Virginia had previously allowed industrial hemp farming for research purposes, but this new law broadens the scope of hemp in the state to include the commercial manufacturing of industrial hemp products.
Four farmers in North Dakota began seeding industrial hemp for the first time in 70 years this spring. North Dakota’s Department of Agriculture’s first-ever commercial industrial hemp pilot program was implemented in 2015 after Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed House Bill 1436. The four farmers chosen to participate in the pilot program applied claiming they would use their hemp crops for the production of hemp oil and the building material “hempcrete.”
Hemp cultivation became legal in Nevada as of January 1. The passing of Senate Bill 305, signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval in June 2015, allows universities and the state Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. Under the agricultural pilot program, growers must register with and be certified by the Department of Agriculture.
In March of this year, a legislative subcommittee gave final approval to regulations overseeing the pilot project, and the Nevada Department of Agriculture has already received several applications to grow the plant, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln will be able to plant its first research crop of industrial hemp after finally receiving approval from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The Nebraska legislature had voted to approve hemp farming for university research two years ago, but insisted that researchers first get federal permission. Researchers at UNL had given up after not getting a response from the DEA, but more than a year and a half after submitting their initial application, the DEA came through with an approval in May.
According to Ismail Dweikat, lead researcher with UNL’s hemp project, the university ordered and expected a shipment of hemp seeds from Canada so that he could plant the state’s first hemp crop by June, but his research team still doesn’t have all the permits necessary to import approved seeds.
“There’s no reason Nebraska couldn’t be an absolute powerhouse in hemp production,” said L Allan Jenkins, professor of Economics and Agribusiness at the University of Nebraska-Kearney.
As of now, however, UNL’s hemp project is on hold.
Hemp seeds were recently planted in Minnesota for the first time since 1950. In early June, farmer John Strohfus, the owner of one of seven farms that will be participating in the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s industrial hemp pilot program, planted hemp seeds across 18 acres.
The Minnesota Industrial Hemp Development Act (IHDA) became law at the conclusion of the state’s 2015 legislative session. Like Nebraska, Minnesota’s hemp legislation required the acquisition of a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration, which the state received earlier this year.
New York lawmakers just recently passed a bill designed to further stimulate the growth of industrial hemp. The bill allows for the transportation, processing, sale, and distribution of hemp that is grown as part of the state’s research pilot program.
The New York legislature proposed an industrial hemp bill that allowed institutions of higher education to grow and study hemp. The legislation passed its vote in 2014 and became effective in June 2015, with Cornell University and Morrisville State College participating in New York’s pilot research program.
Industrial hemp production became legal in North Carolina in October of last year, but progress has been slow. Hemp supporters had to raise the $200,000 necessary to regulate the industry through private donations. They did so in May, which led to the formation of the N.C. Industrial Hemp Commission. Next up is the appointment of the 5-member commission that will propose permanent rules for the N.C. Board of Agriculture to adopt.
Most recently, a new bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee could add further regulations. The bill would require an additional four people to the commission, add law enforcement to the hemp permitting process, and require the new commission to notify law enforcement about the location of approved hemp farms. The N.C. Industrial Hemp Association, which lobbied for hemp legalization and raised the $200,00 in private donations, is in support of the new bill.
Additionally, legislation that would allow state land grant universities to grow industrial hemp through pilot programs is progressing through the North Carolina legislature. The bill was just approved by the North Carolina House in June.
Industrial hemp recently returned to the state of West Virginia following a 70-year dormancy, as West Virginia University is investigating hemp’s commercial potential and the plant’s capabilities to remove contaminants from soil. The university has already planted hemp seeds in Morgantown with the assistance of Agri Carb Electric Corporation, a new energy company that believes hemp can help improve the soil conditions of contaminated brownfields.
Additionally, two political candidates (Mike Manypenny, candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, and J. Morgan Leach, candidate for the West Virginia House of Delegates) are independently cultivating commercial hemp this season.