Ohio’s first hemp year was mostly spent developing the necessary regulations and licensing process for hemp farmers to begin the process.
On July 30, 2019, the state of Ohio legalized the cultivation and sale of industrial hemp—about seven months after federal legalization from the 2018 Farm Bill. Briefly, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy had determined that hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) were to be regulated under the auspices of Ohio’s medical cannabis program, which meant that truly legal hemp products would require analytical testing for contaminants and be restricted (cultivation, sales, etc.) to licensed cannabis operators. Fortunately, the state government passed Senate Bill 57 (SB 57)to “[d]ecriminalize hemp and license hemp cultivation.”
SB 57 provisions for the creation of regulations and a licensure system. The bill specifies that universities cultivating hemp for research purposes do not require a license. Reportedly, Ohio State University cultivated 2,000 hemp plants across various locations shortly after SB 57 was passed. Commercial cultivators, on the other hand, waited.
On November 14, 2019, the Ohio Department of Agriculture announced the public hearing for its regulations, which were held on December 18, 2019. Some expressed complaints about a rule regarding the minimum farm size (0.25 acres and 1,000 plants) due to consequences for prospective small farmers. Proponents believed such restrictions would enhance the commercial viability of the program. The provision survived, and approval from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the initial regulatory plan was granted on December 27, 2019. Another key rule established is that the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) must approve any site where hemp is to be grown.
On March 3, 2020, after another delay, the annual licensing window for cultivators was opened and fixed at November 1 – March 31 although extended to May 1, 2020, for the first year. Thus, Spring 2020 (the time of writing) marked the first planting season. In Ohio, there is no cap on the number of licenses available. Nonetheless, prospective hemp farmers face challenges in the form of risk-averse banks, compliance with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels/testing, and market fluctuations.
Ohio’s hemp program stands for slow and steady. Will it win the race?
Image: Public domain