Growing hemp will require jumping through many hoops

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Now that commercial hemp production has been blessed by the federal and state governments, it’s time find out how much of a market there really is.

Most of the attention goes to CBD or hemp oil as a health aid for humans or animals, but the crop has a wide range of other uses, from textiles, food and beverages, paper, automotive, construction materials, furniture and many others.

Thanks to its association with marijuana, however undeserved, commercial hemp production in Nebraska carries a number of restrictions that the average farmer will find discouraging.

Passed 43-4 by the Nebraska Legislature May 24, LB657 responds to the 2018 Farm Bill, which removes hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act but requires states that wish to regulate hemp production to submit a plan to the USDA.

Sponsored by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, the bill licenses and regulates anyone who wants to grow, process, handle or broker hemp, which is defined as cannabis with no more than 0.3% THC, the plant’s main “high” inducing substance.

The license holder must:

-- Be at least 18

-- not have had a cultivator, processor-handler or broker license revoked in the five years preceding the application

-- not have been convicted of a felony related to a controlled substance within the preceding 10 years.

-- consent to background checks; entry onto and inspection of all sites where hemp would be cultivated or processed

-- allow testing of hemp samples; destruction of hemp found to have THC concentration greater than that allowed by the act; and annual inspections by the department to verify that hemp is being grown in accordance with the law.

The state plan, which must be submitted to Washington by the end of the year, regulates the land where hemp is grown or processed, sampled and tested, how noncompliant plants or products are destroyed, how the act is enforced, and how annual inspections of a random sample of hemp growers is conducted.

On top of that, truckers must carry a bill of lading indicating the hemp’s owner, point of origin and destination, as well as documentation that it was legally produced.

Naturally, the bill creates another bureaucracy, a commission to report to the governor and Legislature, funded by a fee on hemp seed and hemp fiber sold or delivered in the state.

Hemp is certainly a promising crop, especially in Southwest Nebraska where we often see it or its illegal cousin growing wild, even in times of drought. But it will take determined producers, processors and marketers to make it a viable alternative.

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