Finally. Dare I say, FINALLY, hemp has arrived in Ohio. After decades in the shadows, confused with its more popular cousin marijuana, hemp is getting the attention it deserves. It owes this glow to two important developments.
First, the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, aka 2018 Farm Bill.At the end of last year, an amazing transformation, right out of left field, found U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) hastily shepherding hemp through Congress. While agricultural in title, the text within was revolutionary.
Erasing 70 years of prohibition, this remarkable plant reclaimed its long-lost domicile as a seamless source for food, fuel, concrete, clothing, cosmetics, and, yes, CBD. The bill removed hemp from the definition of marijuana as a strictly controlled substance so long as THC content falls below 0.3%.
Second, the introduction of Senate Bill 57 (SB 57) into the 2019-20 Ohio General Assembly.Shockingly, the Republican dominated Ohio Senate unanimously passed SB 57 (30-0). The bill now moves to the Ohio House for consideration. If passed, the final step will be Governor DeWine’s signature. After that, hemp, including CBD, will be legal in Ohio.
While politicos and aficionados hope for swift passage, the state’s attempts at hemp haven been ensconced in a long and difficult trek.
Nationally, hemp’s push from prohibition to prominence began with the 2014 Farm Bill. This federal legislation contained a provision that permitted hemp growing for research via pilot programs. Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky quickly jumped aboard allotting 33 acres in 2014, then 12,800 acres in 2017. All surrounding states passed similar hemp programs. Ohio remained an island unto itself, even though it is the quintessential farm state – ranked 7th for the number of farms. It claims the rank of 3rd in manufacturing and million-vehicle-miles on its interstates. For exports, Ohio ranks 8th.
One would think of hemp as a no-brainer. Incredibly, hemp and derivatives like CBD are still illegal in Ohio even as other states join the new billion-dollar industrial hemp marketplace.
The first attempt to circumvent this legislative intransigence occurred in 1998 when Bob Fitrakis and Kenny Schweickart collected roughly 50,000 signatures for a statewide ballot issue that coupled hemp with medical marijuana. The next quest for
hemp manifested in 2013 with the 150,000 signatures garnered by the Ohio Rights Group for Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment. Hemp seemed so eminent that a Hemp Chamber of Commerce formed, but went poof!
Hemp needed a champion and found it in Julie Doran. Raised on a farm near Westerville, Julie understood the massive loss of jobs and opportunities that has resulted from legislative stall ball.
What did she do? First, she staged the inaugural Industrial Hemp Farm Summit that attracted over 250 Ohio farmers to the Delaware County Fairgrounds. Then, she met with Ohio legislators. Lots of Ohio legislators. So many that she captured the attention of Representative Junita Brent (D-12), who has agreed to introduce companion legislation to SB 57 based on Julie’s Ohio Agricultural Revitalization (OAR) bill.
The two bills differ somewhat. SB 57 amends section 3719 of the Ohio Revised Code to exclude hemp from the definition of marijuana – less than 0.3% THC – and thereby remove it from pharmacy board oversight. Regulation belongs to Ohio Department of Agriculture, which must submit a plan to the United States Department of Agriculture. Cultivation licenses last five years. Cannabinoids cannot be called adulterants. The bill reinforces other 2018 Farm Bill provisions like banking, agricultural loans, and crop insurance.
SB 57 has its sticking points, though: a 10-year ban on felons and no caps on license fees or cropland devoted to hemp cultivation. The former has become a national issue of social justice. Exorbitant fees like those in HB 523 are discriminatory as well. Cropland restrictions enable small farmers to compete with the big guys and thwart a “gold rush” to hemp that might neglect other vital crops like soybeans and corn.
The proposed OAR bill corrects the flaws and omissions in SB 57. No mentions of felonies. License and application fees are capped at $100. A 500-acre maximum per landowner addresses the “gold rush” and crop distribution.
Last, but hardly least, Julie has been pursuing an emergency executive order with representatives of the Common Sense Initiative at the Lieutenant Governor’s office to ensure that Ohioans are able to grow hemp in 2020.
Time is short. Farmers need to prepare their fields and secure banking, insurance, equipment, seeds and contracts.
To meet this tight deadline, Julie needs your help. Please contact your Ohio representatives. Tell them about the benefits of hemp and ask them to stop playing stall ball with this versatile plant. Ohio legislative hotline is 1-800-282-0253. Using a district map, you can find your Ohio Representative. Give them a call or send them an email. Ask them to FINALLY legalize hemp!
As Julie says, this is just the beginning!