Tag Archives: hemp

Hemp Industries Association Sues DEA For Ignoring 9th Circuit Decision in HIA v. DEA (& Please sign this petition for Hemp)

Hemp Industries Association Sues DEA

For Ignoring 9th Circuit Decision in HIA v. DEA

In 2001, the DEA issued new rules to ban hemp foods despite the fact that Congress had exempted them in the Controlled Substances Act. The HIA, Dr. Bronner’s, Nutiva and other plaintiffs went to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge the illogical rules and won a victory. This ruling prohibited DEA from treating legal hemp products as controlled substances and helped the burgeoning hemp foods market to take off. 

Despite this victory and the clear order from the court prohibiting DEA from enforcing the rules, DEA has continued to put out incorrect and confusing information advising the media and state officials that hemp foods are still illegal if they are intended for human consumption! 

Today the HIA filed a motion with the court to ask that DEA be found in contempt for refusing the follow the courts order. You can read the filing here.

 

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Let American Farmers Grow Hemp Once Again to Create Jobs and Rebuild the Rural Economy – Sign This Petition

Created by E.S. on January 20, 2017 – Sign This Petition

Industrial hemp was once a dominant crop on the American landscape. This hardy and renewable resource was refined for various industrial applications, including paper, textiles, and cordage. Unfortunately hemp was conflated with marijuana but hemp can't be used as a drug.

Over time, the use of industrial hemp has evolved into an even greater variety of products, including health foods, body care, clothing, auto parts, construction materials, biofuels, plastic composites and more.

Farmers in Europe, Canada and China all grow hemp and over $600 million in imported hemp products were sold in the USA in 2016. Congress has 2 bipartisan bills which would bring back hemp farming and create rural jobs. We request that President Trump work with Congress to pass hemp legislation in 2017 – Sign This PetitionSign This Petition

Kentucky approves 12,800 acres for hemp planting in 2017, tripling the previous year’s figures

Growers must pass background check

WCPO Staff

6:46 AM, Jan 6, 2017

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) has approved 209 applications from growers who have been approved to cultivate up to 12,800 acres of industrial hemp for research purposes in 2017, nearly tripling the number of acres that were approved for 2016. More than 525,000 square feet of greenhouse space were approved for indoor growers in 2017.

“By nearly tripling hemp acreage in 2017 and attracting more processors to the state, we are significantly growing opportunities for Kentucky farmers,” said Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, in a news release. “Our strategy is to use KDA’s research pilot program to encourage the industrial hemp industry to expand and prosper in Kentucky. Although it is not clear when Congress might act to remove industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances, my strategic objective is to position the commonwealth’s growers and processors to ultimately prevail as national leaders in industrial hemp production.”

The KDA received a total of 252 applications – 234 grower applications and 18 processor/handler applications. Applicants were asked to identify which harvestable component of the plant would be the focus of their research (floral material, grain, or fiber); some applicants selected more than one component.

In addition to grower applications, KDA approved 11 new applications from processors (in addition to 29 previously approved multi-year processor applications that were not required to reapply). Five universities will also carry out additional research projects in 2017. KDA officials cited the recent decline in commodity prices as one factor that appears to be generating increased interest among Kentucky’s farmers in industrial hemp and other alternative crops.

In 2016, 137 growers were approved to plant up to 4,500 acres. Program participants planted more than 2,350 acres of hemp in 2016, up from 922 acres in 2015 and 33 acres in 2014.

To strengthen KDA’s partnership with state and local law enforcement officers, KDA will provide GPS coordinates of approved industrial hemp planting sites to law enforcement agencies before any hemp is planted. GPS coordinates were required to be submitted on the application. Participants also must pass background checks and consent to allow program staff and law enforcement officers to inspect any premises where hemp or hemp products are being grown, handled, stored or processed.

“We have made collaboration and communication with the law enforcement community a top priority for KDA’s management of this research pilot program,” Quarles said.

Staff with the KDA’s industrial hemp research pilot program evaluated the applications and considered whether returning applicants had complied with instructions from KDA, Kentucky State Police and local law enforcement. To promote transparency and ensure a fair playing field, KDA relied on objective criteria, outlined in the 2017 Policy Guide, to evaluate applications.

The KDA operates its program under the authority of a provision of the 2014 federal farm bill, 7 U.S.C. § 5940, that permits industrial hemp pilot programs in states where hemp production is permitted by state law. For more information and to view the 2017 Policy Guide, please visit the website here.

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A Kentucky-based hemp seed grower is the first company to have its seeds approved and officially certified by the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

 

 

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Blair Miller

DENVER – A Kentucky-based hemp seed grower is the first company to have its seeds approved and officially certified by the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Lexington, Kentucky-based Schiavi Seeds LLC had three separate seed varieties certified as CDA Approved Certified Seeds under the new program, which aims to promote hemp agriculture in the state.

CDA has worked with CSGA and Colorado State University over the past several months to breed plants that produce seeds under the 0.3 percent THC content threshold to qualify as hemp and not psychoactive marijuana.

Varying seed types were grown and tested in trials in different parts of the state in order to find ideal conditions for hemp cultivation.

Colorado law requires industrial hemp seeds to contain less than 0.3 percent THC. Three trial seeds from Schiavi Seeds – Eletta Campana, Fibranova and Helena – passed trial tests and were accepted by the state Seed Growers Association’s review board.

CDA says seeds submitted by Fort Collins-based New West Genetics have also passed the THC trial, but still have to be accepted by the review board before they can also be labeled as a CDA Approved Certified Seed.

Congress approved hemp production in 2014, but a state certification like Colorado’s is necessary to raise the crop.

Colorado farmers will be able to start buying and growing the seeds next year.

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First new hemp strain bred for US farmers

By: Chris Conrad

Retail Hemp field crop

A new industrial hemp cultivar has passed the THC hemp trials managed by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the first hemp seed variety bred for the US to pass a Department of Agriculture hemp trial in any state.

Thomas Jefferson was a jealous hempseed breeder who allegedly brought Chinese seeds in from France in the 1790s to mix with the European strains. Later the US Department of Agriculture adopted an aggressive program to breed plants that were drought resistant and climate or soil specific for different parts of the United States and came up with some of the best hemp strains in the world. That all came to an end with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, when hemp farming was essentially banned. The national seed banks died out when the federal Drug Enforcement Agency took control in the 1970s and destroyed them in the name of the Drug War.

Act of Congress opened the way for new hemp seedlines

In February 2015, Congress passed the hemp amendment to the Farm bill and opened new avenues for cannabis hemp. Two years later, Rely™ by New West Genetics has become the first modern hemp variety bred for the U.S. to pass Colorado Department of Agriculture hemp trials. The plants have a stable THC content below 0.1 percent, compared with the federal standard of 0.3 percent or less.

“This is a landmark victory for New West Genetics, as well as hemp production in the United States overall,” said Wendy Mosher, CEO for New West Genetics. “The use of regionally bred hemp seed for production is imperative for the US hemp industry to succeed, and we hope that the results for Rely™ act as a catalyst for other U.S. hemp product makers to recognize the benefit of regionally bred varieties – better yield, disease resistance, sustainability, etc. and demand those be used for their products.”

PLEASE CONTINUE READING…

Kentucky Congressmen Seek Clarification on Federal Hemp Rules

By Matt Markgraf Oct 27, 2016

Three members of Kentucky’s U.S. Congressional delegation joined 16 other members of Congress in a letter Wednesday seeking clarification from federal agencies regarding industrial hemp guidelines.

Senator Rand Paul and Representatives Thomas Massie and John Yarmuth signed a letter to The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Drug Enforcement Administration and Food and Drug Administration looking to revise the ‘Statement of Principles’ issued in August.

The Congressmen say there is confusion over pilot programs approved in the 2014 Farm Bill allowing state ag departments and universities, including Murray State, to grow the plant for research. Guidance also could have a limiting effect on sales and transportation, the letter argues. Federal law prohibits farmers growing for commercial profit, but retail sales of products made with hemp are legal.

Kentucky’s Ag Commissioner Ryan Quarles sent a letter to the USDA last month objecting to the rules, saying they “could hinder industrial hemp’s economic potential.”

Read the letter sent Wednesday

 

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More executive overreach? Lawmakers say Obama hemp policy is a buzzkill for research

 

Kentucky is one of 28 states that permit the production of industrial hemp.

Kentucky is one of 28 states that permit the production of industrial hemp. Charles Bertram Lexington Herald-Leader

By Curtis Tate

ctate@mcclatchydc.com

 

You can’t get high from smoking hemp, but a bipartisan group of lawmakers says states and universities growing it for research could get busted if they cross state lines with it.

Three Kentucky lawmakers — Republican Sen. Rand Paul, Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth and Republican Rep. Thomas Massie — have asked the Obama administration to remove or revise August guidance that prohibits the shipment of hemp plants and seeds across state lines even for research.

Industrial hemp only contains a fraction of the intoxicating chemical associated with its cousin marijuana, and it is grown worldwide to produce fabrics, carpets, paper, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and even auto parts.

While federal law prohibits farmers from growing hemp for a profit, it can be grown in some states for research purposes.

 

We request that you please remove the attempted prohibition on transporting plants and seeds across state lines.

 

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and 18 other lawmakers in letter Joining 16 of their colleagues in a letter dated Thursday, the Kentucky lawmakers told the Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration that its guidance has sown seeds of confusion among state agriculture departments and universities that have hemp research programs.

Kentucky and 27 other states have authorized the production of industrial hemp. The 2014 Farm Bill enabled those states to establish pilot programs.

This year in Kentucky, 135 growers and 4,500 acres have been approved under the state’s pilot program. Kentucky had led the nation in hemp production until after the Civil War.

This year in Kentucky, 135 growers and 4,500 acres have been approved under the state’s pilot program.

The Farm Bill also says the Executive Branch may not use appropriated funds “to prohibit the transportation, processing, sale or use of industrial hemp” that is grown in accordance with the law.

The three agencies do not have the authority to issue the guidance they did in August, the lawmakers wrote.

“We request that you please remove the attempted prohibition on transporting plants and seeds across state lines,” they wrote.

 

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article110887257.html#storylink=cpy

Kentucky Should Not Wait For Federal Permission on Industrial Hemp

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There are right ways to fight the unconstitutional federal prohibition on industrial hemp. There are also wrong ways to do it. Unfortunately, Kentucky is doing it the wrong way. Rather than act without unnecessary federal “permission,” the agriculture commissioner is pleading with the feds to “reconsider” its rules for industrial hemp.

The feds recently put out a report called the Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp which outlines how federal laws impact hemp production for research purposes. However, the Kentucky agriculture commissioner says it is not certain how the rules apply to hemp oil (CBD oil) production research, which makes up over half of the state’s hemp programs.

“There are some areas(of the report) that may be problematic, including the definition of what the actual definition of what industrial hemp is,” said Quarles. He added that he hopes “those in Washington realize that the entire plant should be researched.”

While industrial hemp and recreational marijuana are both prohibited under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, they are different strains of the same plant. Industrial hemp has practically no trace of THC, the chemical in found in marijuana that makes it potent. While it is not illegal to grow industrial hemp, farmers must obtain a permit from the DEA, a virtually impossible feat. Up until a couple of years ago, the feds effectively maintained complete prohibition of industrial hemp production.

At one time, Kentucky ranked as the no. 1 hemp producing state in the country, and the commonwealth currently has a strong grassroots network of hemp advocates. But when the legislature took up the issue in 2013, it only authorized hemp production if and when the feds allowed it.

Early in 2014, President Barack Obama opened the door when he signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The “hemp amendment”

…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oil-seed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.

With the federal government granting its limited permission, the state of Kentucky launched a hemp pilot program meeting the federal guidelines in 2014. Now, state agriculture officials find themselves in a position where they must beg the federal government to change its rules in order to even run its limited research program.

Meanwhile, other states including Colorado, Vermont, Oregon, South Carolina, Connecticut, Maine and North Dakota aren’t waiting around for permission. They have taken steps to ramp up industrial hemp production on their own, simply ignoring federal prohibition and legalizing industrial hemp within their state borders.

While prospective hemp growers still have to take federal law into consideration, by eliminating the state requirement for federal permission, state hemp legalization clears away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming within the borders of the state.

And it’s working. For instance, in Colorado the amount of acreage used to grow industrial hemp is poised to double this year.

The growing hemp industry in Colorado and other states acting independent of federal law shows that the fed’s ban does not work without state cooperation.

Kentucky should cease pleading for permission where none is required and takes steps to nullify the federal ban on industrial hemp by simply creating a framework allowing farmers to cultivate and process hemp for both commercial and research purposes.

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RELATED:

Two Approaches to Hemp Demonstrate Futility of Asking for Federal Permission

Mike Lewis and the Growing Warriors

By Andrew Baker  – Sep 20, 2016

 

mike-lewis-and-the-growing-warriors

One of the things I love most about our industry is that it’s constantly being shaken up. Everywhere you look, there’s an individual or a company taking things to a previously unprecedented level. What’s even more amazing is the pace at which things are moving; a pace that’s only going to increase in speed as the industry becomes more open and recognized.

To help illustrate what I mean, think about this: If you have kids that are, say 5 years old or younger, there is a good chance that you won’t need to teach them how to drive. At least not the way you or I learned. It’s entirely possible that our kids will never have to grab a steering wheel or press a gas pedal.

Don’t worry, I’ll wait while you go ahead and put your brain back together.

But you see, these types of technological advancements aren’t being made in exclusivity. Strides like what I described above aren’t possible simply because the automobile industry is so advanced. The technology that would go into a self-driving car could be repurposed, tweaked just a little bit, and put to use in something like virtual reality. It can, and often does, work the other way around as well.

The cannabis industry is no exception, as we’re starting to see. I really enjoy tech — and I’m obsessed with entrepreneurship — so the flood of cannabis startups is an exciting thing to watch. Typing all this out makes me realize two things. One, I haven’t tackled this sort of topic in any of my previous posts. Two, I’m eager to do so for you guys.

But that’ll have to wait.

What? You thought all of that was to lead up to me covering some sort of futuristic weed tech? Nope. I just needed a good segue to what I’ll be talking about in today’s post. Who, actually, not what.

His name is Mike Lewis and he’s shaking things up in a simple but powerful way and he’s doing it with just his hands and his voice.

Mike Lewis! Who? Mike Lewis!

Aside from any readers I have out of Houston, who got the song reference?

In all seriousness though, Mike Lewis is a name you’ll come to know quite well if you don’t already. We’ll start with the basics. Mike is a proud husband, father, veteran of the United States Army and Kentucky farmer. In 2012, he established Growing Warriors, the first veteran-oriented food security organization. 

There are about one million veterans and active duty military personnel receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly referred to as food stamps. It’s also no secret that the unemployment rate among veterans is unacceptably high. (To be fair, it is declining at a considerable rate.)  Mike’s answer to this issue? Teach them how to grow and preserve their own food while banding together within their communities. This was accomplished by forming partnerships with cities, veteran hospitals, educational institutions, and community based organizations in order to provide veterans with hands on, curriculum-based learning opportunities. Since it’s inception, Growing Warriors has been able to help dozens of veteran families produce tens of thousands of pounds in organic produce.

Keep in mind that I’m just giving you a brief introduction. Mike’s, and the Growing Warriors’, efforts extend across multiple states and I could easily fill out the rest of this post by diving deep into everything they’re doing. For today, though, I want to bring your attention to what Mike and the Growing Warriors are doing for our industry, specifically the industrial hemp side of things.

Harvesting Liberty With Growing Warriors

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this short documentary film, Harvesting Liberty. Backed and presented by Patagonia, this film aims to address and shed light on the legalization of industrial hemp in the United States. Seriously, stop reading this, open that link in another tab, take the next 12 minutes of your day to watch it, then come back here to finish up and talk to me about what you think.

A couple of years ago, President Obama signed the Agriculture Act of 2014 — the Farm Bill — into effect. There’s a section of this act titled Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research. Basically, this section allows for universities and state departments of agriculture — in states where hemp is legal to grow — to grow hemp for research or pilot programs. Back in the 1800’s, Kentucky dominated the industrial hemp market. So, it’s quite fitting that a group of Kentucky farmers, Mike and the Growing Warriors, were given permission to cultivate 5 acres. 

As soon as they got their seeds, Mike “threw ‘em the ground really quickly before anybody changed their mind.”

American Hemp Flag

I found two things to be really interesting while watching that documentary and doing further research afterward.

First, the way Mike and his team go about processing the harvested hemp into useable materials. Get this: it’s done entirely by hand. When you think about it, that actually makes sense. Industrial hemp hasn’t been cultivated in America since it was listed as a Schedule I controlled substance, so of course there’s no hemp processing machinery just laying around waiting to be used. Even if there was, Mike wanted to use traditional methods to weave what he had in store. More on that in a moment, though.

They begin by using a process known as retting. Put simply, retting is the natural process of allowing moisture and microorganisms to remove the sugars in the stalk that hold all the fibers together. Once the plant has been retted completely, it’s moved to the barn for drying. What follows is called breaking, or decorticating. The hemp stalk is run through a hand powered machine that crushes the stalk and separates each of the fibers. Once separated, the fibers are spun together using spinners that are, once again, hand powered.

The second thing that really caught my interest (and by that I mean it had me grinning from ear to ear) is what they decided to make with the materials that came from this first harvest.

An American Flag. (Not sorry if I’m spoiling anything because I told you to stop and watch the documentary!)

“We made this American ingenuity with people from all walks of life. Life and society are not uniform or standardized in any way. This flag represents the bumps and ridges in our society and the great things that happen when we accept differences and work to solve problems. It represents all of us and our future.”

Nationwide Legalization of Industrial Hemp

On the 4th of July, Mike delivered that flag to Congress along with a speech in support of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015/2016. This act proposes the nationwide legalization of industrial hemp cultivation, something I’ll be digging into in a later article.

Mike takes a stance that you don’t see often in this industry and its activists. While he’s obviously in full support of legalization and bringing industrial hemp farming back to America, he also recognizes the need to take it slow. There’s a lot of mistakes left to be made and we need to let those kinks get worked out before attempting to blow up the market. Not only that, but there’s a ton of misinformation out there when it comes to hemp. Most of the public still doesn’t understand that hemp isn’t the same as its THC-laden counterpart cannabis.  

There’s a lot that can be said about Mike Lewis and all the work he’s putting out into the world. If I had to pick one thing, it would be that he’s solid proof that you don’t have to be a high tech startup out of San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, or Denver to effect real change on the cannabis industry. Those types of businesses have their place and I’m rooting for them. I just think it’s important that you don’t forget that there’s a place for you outside of an office space, if that’s where you’d rather be.

Interested in growing hemp or getting involved? You can learn more over at the National Hemp Association and the Hemp Industries Association.

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New U.S. Agriculture policy could halt some Kentucky hemp growth

 

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By Charles Mason, Bowling Green Daily News,

Possibly half of Kentucky’s nascent industrial hemp industry could be harmed by a policy suggestion offered by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack and other federal officials.

The policy suggestion is part of a larger discussion over the future of industrial hemp in America, which exists in legal limbo. States with legislation in place can allow it be grown under research conditions, but cannabis is still outlawed as a controlled substance.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said Thursday that Kentucky is the biggest industrial hemp state in the United States.

“We want Kentucky to be the epicenter for industrial hemp,” Quarles said during a telephone interview.

This set of paragraphs in a federal publication has created some concerns about the future viability of Kentucky’s program.

“The term ‘industrial hemp’ includes the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part or derivative of such plant, including seeds of such plant, whether growing or not, that is used exclusively for industrial purposes (fiber and seed) with a tetrahydrocannabinols concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis,” according to the “Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp” released Aug. 12 in the Federal Register.

Under the parameters, the feds would redefine industrial hemp to include only “historically proven” applications – fiber and seed – excluding other potential applications. The statement from the feds – which is not legally binding – goes on to say that ‘‘tetrahydrocannabinols includes all isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers of tetrahydrocannabinols.”

The Federal Register statement also noted, “… 2014 legalized the growing and cultivating of industrial hemp for research purposes in states where such growth and cultivation is legal under state law, notwithstanding existing federal statutes that would otherwise criminalize such conduct.”

The language in the Federal Register also has a Louisville businessman concerned.

Chad Wilson of Bowling Green, who has a business in Louisville, admits it is early in the process of these national discussions. He sees the Kentucky family farmer and his or her crop options being endangered by the federal policy suggestion.

Wilson is the marketing director for Green Remedy of Louisville, which distributes natural remedies derived from non-industrial hemp applications.

“We created this Kentucky company to help the Kentucky farmer,” Wilson said Thursday during a telephone interview. “We have a right to a better quality of life.”

Kentucky permits 167 research plots for industrial hemp by growers not affiliated with an educational institution and the about 2,200 acres planted is expected to grow in the coming years. Kentucky’s research pilot program is in its third growing season. The program exists because the current Farm Bill offers an exemption to allow the research plots, Quarles said.

“We are trying to create stability for the investors. They are concerned about this policy paper,” Quarles said of the state’s industrial hemp program.

Quarles recently wrote Vilsack and other federal officials to express concerns about the federal government’s approach to narrow Congress’ definition of industrial hemp.

That approach excludes cannabidiol (CBD), which advocates claim has health benefits. Green Remedy’s products derive from CBD.

Quarles said more than half of the industrial hemp acreage cultivated this year by pilot program participants in Kentucky is being used to harvest CBD.

“Freedom, flexibility and latitude to try new methods and applications are essential to the success of any agricultural research pilot program. Industrial hemp research pilot programs are now different,” Quarles wrote Vilsack; Deputy Assistant Administrator Louis Milione of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency; and Associate Commissioner Leslie Kux of the federal Food and Drug Administration on Sept. 12.

The Federal Register statement noted that the USDA, DEA and FDA were still sorting out legalities of permitted industrial hemp programs authorized by states.

The statement wasn’t all potential bad news for Kentucky.

Quarles applauded the decision to allow hemp growers and processors to be eligible for federal loans, grants and other programs.

However, he took exception with the narrowed definition that would shut out non-industrial hemp product applications such as use of hemp parts as food ingredients, as materials for artistic use; or as ingredients for pharmaceutical, nutraceutical or other health-related purposes.

Quarles told the federal administrator that CBD shows “great promise” as an economically viable agricultural product.

“Kentucky’s General Assembly is one of many state legislatures that has expressed their support for continuing and expanding CBD applications and research,” Quarles wrote.

The CBD portion of the plant is the backbone of Wilson’s three-year-old company. Wilson said he used to look at cannabis in the narrow view of marijuana and people getting high, but through personal education about industrial hemp and its non-industrial medicinal applications, “they call me the hemp preacher now,” he said Thursday in a telephone interview.

Green Remedy has less than five employees and Wilson declines to cite specifically what his business is worth except to say that he’s made a “substantial investment” and contracted growers to provide the CBD his business uses.

“This is an opportunity for the middle class to step up and start a business,” Wilson said. “You don’t do something like this and then pull the rug out.”

Wilson and Quarles are both concerned that foreign hemp seed might transcend domestic efforts.

The Statement of Principles calls for prohibiting transfers of hemp seeds and plants across state lines, despite Congress’ “clear intent” to allow such interstate transfers, Quarles noted in the letter.

“I cannot understand why the importation rules should be more restrictive for interstate transfers than for international transfers,” Quarles wrote.

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RELATED:

Because CBDs are being investigated by drug companies, the FDA has granted CBDs status as being “investigated as a new drug.”

First cultivated hemp field in Minnesota since 1950 is growing strong

By Noura Elmanssy on Jul 5, 2016 at 6:30 p.m.

John Strohfus, owner of Strohfus Stock Farm in Hastings, grows a lot of things, but recently with the help of his partners Ben Thurmes and Ken Anderson, he’s added hemp to his list and made some history doing it.

Eighteen acres of hemp was planted on June 17 in Hastings. It was the first time since 1950 that hemp has been intentionally planted in the state of Minnesota.

The trio, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), is participating in the Hemp Pilot Program, which aims to show how viable hemp could be in the Minnesota market.

“I thought it would be a new and exciting crop,” Strohfus said. “It was something that would be a good fit for our small acreage.”

The pilot program that was announced in March of this year allowed the growth of hemp as long as the crop could be monitored by the MDA, Strohfus explained. The program is an effort “to study the growth, cultivation, or marketing of industrial hemp,” according to the Minnesota statute on industrial hemp development.

While other farms are involved, Strohfus has the biggest planting.

Strohfus, Thurmes and Anderson all graduated from Hastings High School but didn’t get in touch until later in their farming careers. Strohfus and Thurmes had partnered in some farming ventures, and Strohfus reached out to Anderson, who knew a lot about the industry, when he had realized this can be done in Minnesota.

“(Anderson) has been an advocate in the hemp industry for many years … he has also been an advocate for and a lobbyist for the legalization of hemp as an agricultural product and was involved with the first planting in the United States in 2015 in Kentucky,” Strohfus said.

They submitted a proposal in April to the MDA and by May, they were approved and signed a contract. Strohfus said they had to wait some time before the seed arrived. When it did, a donation of grain drills from Value Implement of Ellsworth, Wisconsin, and Niebur Implement of Miesville made planting easy.

What is hemp?

Hemp, sometimes known as industrial hemp, is a variety of the cannabis plant. There are two forms of hemp, industrial and food grade. Industrial hemp can be used for fiber, straw, construction materials and more. Hemp for grain production is used for the food supply chain. Strohfus said that they are planting the grain variety. Food grade hemp seeds can be used in a variety of dishes like cereal or salads and is used to make hemp seed oil, a possible substitute for traditional cooking oils.

“They’re easy to eat and cook with, and they have a pleasantly nutty taste, like a cross between a sunflower seed and a pine nut,” Christina Chaey wrote in an article for Bon Appétit.

Cannabis is most commonly associated with marijuana, as the cannabis plant is the same species that produces the drug. Hemp and marijuana, however, are two separate products.

According the National Hemp Association’s website, “one of the biggest misconceptions is believing that industrial hemp is the same thing as marijuana. The two plants are from the same species but are more like first cousins and NOT identical twins.”

“Industrial hemp and marijuana are cousins of each other but they’re really apples and oranges as far as plants goes,” Strohfus said. “So much, in fact, that one of the concerns with law enforcement was that people may come out to a field of industrial hemp and try to hide marijuana in the middle of it because you can’t distinguish the plants between each other by just looking at the leaf structure; however, industrial hemp will actually kill off marijuana and so they can’t co-exist in the same, same area.”

Due to its association with the cannabis plant, hemp became illegal in the United States through the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Although hemp has a very low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level, which is what gives marijuana its potency, was still considered a threat and was banned from then on.

As a part of the pilot program, Strohfus explained, a license had to be purchased through the MDA in order to sell and market the product freely. The money paid goes to monitoring the plant by taking tissue samples to ensure the THC level is below the required 0.3 percent.

“Our hope is that in the coming 12 months, at the federal level, that hemp will be removed from the drug enforcement agency’s schedule one narcotic list,” Strohfus said, “and will no longer be listed as a narcotic and or listed specifically different from its cousin, marijuana, and that way state licensure will no longer be needed to regulate it, it would be a free market, agriculture product like corn, beans, wheat or oats. That’s our ultimate goal.”

Where is the U.S. hemp industry now?

With the help of the United States Department of Agriculture Farm Bill of 2014, hemp was recognized as a crop and states were given the authority to grow hemp as long as they also developed a research program to study the growth and cultivation of the plant.

As of 2015, Colorado, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vermont and Oregon had all begun to grow hemp, joining 14 other states that produce hemp.

“Our (Minnesotan) soils are very conducive to growing hemp,” Strohfus said, “and you know, historical data – it’s been documented that Minnesota and Wisconsin had some very, very good hemp yields back in the 30s, 40s, 50s until it was banned and also the varieties that have been developed now in Canada – Canada soil types are similar so we’re planting a Canadian variety.”

Canada started to research the crop in 1994 and it remains a very popular location for hemp, along with other countries like Romania, the largest commercial producer of hemp in Europe.

With the addition of programs like the hemp pilot program in Minnesota, Strohfus said he hopes to make this crop once again viable in the farming industry.

“All three of us have a pretty good vision around that we want to make this a Minnesota soil-to-shelf product,” he said. “We don’t want to ship it to California for processing. We’d like to figure out a way to work with Minnesota partners and get it on store shelves in Minnesota within this first year.”

What’s next?

With the largest planting in the program now in the ground, Strohfus said that monitoring the product is the next step and making sure the logistics are developed in order to have a successful market.

“Other farmers will be able to feel confident that they can actually recover and profit from the grain as they could bean or corn,” he said.

Establishing a market for hemp will be a challenge, he said, but if successful, it stands to be well worth the effort.

“… The profit margins will be much higher than the current margins for corn or beans or other smaller grain crops, wheat and oats as well,” he said.

Overall, Strohfus said that the journey has been filled with learning and growth and hopes that this program impacts the hemp industry in Minnesota.

“It’s been really, really fun so far, we expect to learn a lot,” Strohfus said. “Hopefully we can actually get the packaging and the placement on the store shelf, that would be the ultimate bonus, but if we can at least get to a successful yield, successfully cleaned grain and be able to market that to the current buyers, that would be good enough and then getting it on the shelf would be the ultimate prize for this year.”

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