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Toledo Legal News - Bill would decriminalize hemp, establish cultivation program

 

State lawmakers took a first look at a bill that would allow Ohio farmers to cash in on hemp, marijuana's non-psychoactive cousin.

The sponsoring Republican duo gave testimony in support of Ohio Farm Bureau-backed Senate Bill 57 before Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee members this week.

"Hemp is not marijuana," Sen. Steve Huffman of Tipp City told lawmakers. "While industrial hemp and marijuana both derive from the same plant genus, they possess many different properties - the main difference being that industrial hemp contains only trace amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), so it does not produce psychoactive effects on humans like marijuana does."

He said for Ohio-grown hemp to comply with federal law, the commodity would have to contain no more than 0.3 percent THC.

SB 57 would create an industrial hemp program in the Buckeye State, administered by the Department of Agriculture.

Additionally, the legislation would clarify that hemp and hemp derived products, including CBD (cannabidiol) oil may be sold legally in Ohio.

"This an exciting opportunity for farmers to expand the crops they plant," said the bill's joint sponsor Sen. Brian Hill of Zanesville. "Farmers can rotate hemp to improve soil health while earning more profit than many traditional cover crops.

"I'm eager to see all the ways that Ohio will benefit from this legislation."

The lawmakers noted that with the recent passage of the 2018 Federal Farm Bill, industrial hemp has been removed from the list of scheduled substances banned by the federal government and can now be grown as a commodity crop throughout the United States.

Many states have adopted a hemp pilot program, so that farmers in their jurisdictions could begin planting and harvesting hemp and so the hemp could be used in over 25,000 commercial products including feed, fiber, biofuels, clothing and plastic, the lawmakers added.

Huffman noted that the federal law taking hemp off the controlled substances list and treating it permanently as an agricultural commodity, necessitates SB 57 to clarify state law by changing the relevant definitions and removing hemp and hemp-derived products like CBD oil from Ohio's controlled substances list.

"We are distinguishing hemp from marijuana just as the federal government has done and making hemp and hemp products legal for sale," he said.

SB 57 enjoys support of the Ohio Farm Bureau and has the intention of helping Ohio farmers.

"Farmers are always looking for new options to diversify their operations," the bureau's Executive Vice President Adam Sharp said in a statement. "We applaud Sens. Hill and Huffman for introducing legislation to help bring industrial hemp to Ohio and to allow farmers to explore the potential of this quickly growing market opportunity."

According to the bill, the state director of Agriculture would have to establish a Hemp Cultivation Program to monitor and regulate cultivation of the commodity.

Under the program, the director would be required to issue hemp cultivation licenses to eligible applicants.

A person seeking to cultivate hemp must apply for a five-year hemp cultivation license, the bill stipulates. The Department of Agriculture or a university with director approval, however, may cultivate hemp without such a license.

KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer

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