Maryland Hemp Farming Program Proposal Released

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The July 6 edition of the Maryland Register includes the proposal for the long-awaited hemp farming program by the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). While there has been plenty of discussion about Maryland responding to the 2018 Farm Bill and the pending deadline for Maryland to get in compliance with the interim final rules from the United States Drug Administration (USDA), this is the first time the regulatory framework has been made public. 

“The proposed action will provide small businesses a meaningful opportunity to produce hemp in the State,” the proposal in the Maryland Register reads. “Under the program, hemp can be grown in Maryland and legally shipped in interstate commerce, which significantly expands potential business opportunities.”

For the most part, Maryland’s a new statutory hemp program mimics the USDA’s framework.The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the federal list of controlled substances and defined it as any part of the plant with the botanical name Cannabis Sativa (the same name as cannabis) that contains 0.3% of THC or less, which separates it from cannabis as we commonly understand which has significantly more THC (cannabis remains federally illegal). As a result of the Farm Bill, a number of states have moved forward with their own  hemp programs, while Maryland has until now, continued under the framework as a result of the 2014 Farm Bill which allowed hemp to be grown for research purposes—part of its Industrial Hemp Pilot Program.

For hemp farmers, there is a yearly $500 license fee  and an annual $50 application fee, as well as a $250 testing fee that is applied when the MDA samples and tests a farmer’s hemp for THC. The proposal does not try to estimate how many farmers might apply or how many samples might end up being tested, but notes that even a modest response to the program will generate significant income: “For illustrative purposes only, if 100-150 persons apply for licensure and are, in fact, issued a license, special fund revenues would total $55,000-$80,000; and if samples are tested for THC, special fund revenues would increase an additional $125,000.” In recent months, there have been concerns about how much farmers can make off of hemp as many experts are worried about a growing “hemp rush” that would lower the value of hemp.

Additionally, the proposal explains that the program “will benefit those persons interested in having a local source of hemp for processing products such as CBD oil.”

There is a pending October 31, 2020 deadline for having these regulations worked out. While states can still have their hemp production plans approved after that date, if a state is regulating hemp pursuant to the 2014 Farm Bill and they don’t have hemp production regulations that conform to the USDA interim final rules by Oct. 31, then the USDA rules will control the state’s hemp production until the regulations are approved.

Public comment on the proposal is open through August 5 and can be sent to the MDA’s Jim Drews (jim.drews@maryland.gov). Currently, there is no scheduled public meeting.

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