Among the many provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill is the legalization of widespread production of hemp. Congress approved the compromise last week, and President Trump is expected to sign it into law. But Ohio could lose a chance to capitalize on the new industry if lawmakers maintain the state's prohibition on the study and cultivation of hemp.
The Farm Bill will allow states to decide for themselves if they want hemp farming.
“There are a lot of companies. There are a lot of advocacy organizations, associations, a lot of business interest in the production of hemp,” says Ohio State agricultural professor Peggy Kirk Hall. “So I would expect it to continue to be a growing business.”
In 2014, Congress approved pilot programs to study hemp, a non-psychoactive variety of the marijuana plant that's used to make everything from body lotion to building materials. The bill will allow hemp cultivation on a broader scale.
It also allows the transfer of hemp-derived products across state lines for commercial or other purposes.
“While a state could prohibit the production and growth of hemp in its state, it can’t interfere with the transfer of those hemp-based products among the states,” Hall says.
Hall says many farmers see the benefits of growing hemp.
“I think for those farmers who want to produce and grow hemp and benefit from that specialty crop, which I understand does produce good economic benefits for farmers, I think it will be more difficult if the state doesn’t create its own program,” Hall says. “And certainly it would be difficult if the state decides to take action and prohibit the growth.”
The 2018 Farm Bill defines hemp as a cannabis plant, like marijuana, though it cannot contain more than 0.3 percent of THC (the compound that relates to a person getting high). Previously, federal law did not distinguish hemp from other cannabis plants.
Hall says Ohio’s definition of marijuana will still include all plants of the genus cannabis, including hemp. She says the Ohio Pharmacy Board rules could remain in effect. Those rules specify that CBD oil made from hemp can only be sold at medical marijuana dispensaries, which are not yet up and running.
“There are definitely similarities between the two plants, given their horticultural backgrounds,” Hall says. “But the difference is in the hemp, the cannabis qualities are very minimal, so it’s not used for those kinds of intoxicating purposes. And it’s not capable actually in large quantities of even producing those same types of reactions in a person.”
Despite restrictions in Ohio, Hall says residents can still take advantage of the hemp farming experiences of others. According to the National Hemp Association, every state surrounding Ohio allows at least some commercial use of hemp, including Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan.
“But I think we can look to other pilot programs and learn from those and producers in Ohio can still benefit from those and apply those lessons learned here in Ohio,” Hall says. “I don’t think it’s a major drawback.”
Hall says Ohio lawmakers must now consider whether it will follow suit with the Farm Bill provisions and redefine hemp under state law. They can also decide whether to develop a state plan that will allow for hemp production.