NoDak Urges DEA to Waive Hemp Registration Requirements for State Farmers

As North Dakota moves ever closer to licensing its first farmers to begin cultivating industrial hemp, Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson on Dec. 27 said he has asked the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to waive individual federal registration requirements for duly licensed NoDak hemp farmers. “This would simplify the process for growers, while enhancing DEA’s ability to monitor and regulate industrial hemp production in North Dakota,” Johnson said in a press release.

Whether the DEA will oblige Johnson’s request, however, remains to be seen. Indeed, although cultivation of industrial Cannabis, the non-narcotic cousin of marijuana, is a purely agricultural endeavor, federal law allows the DEA (which, as far as Reefer Madness knows, has no agricultural prowess whatsoever) to decide whether to allow individual farmers the privilege to grow the crop. To date, the DEA has only ever approved once such request, to researchers in Hawaii, for which approval has long since expired.

Nonetheless, North Dakota lawmakers have for nearly a decade sought to reintroduce hemp to its stable of rotational crops, citing in part its economic potential and its sustainability as an environmentally friendly crop. Still, the DEA continues to balk at any suggestion that hemp could be a viable commodity – one that could, in fact, revitalize the agricultural economy – claiming, repeatedly, that hemp cultivation is somehow a backdoor attempt to legalize marijuana and, alternately, that hemp farming would merely provide a good cover crop for outdoor pot growing operations. Neither claim is true – in fact, researchers consistently note that planting marijuana near hemp would be a big mistake since cross-pollination would render the pot crop impotent.

Earlier this year North Dakota finally enacted rules to make industrial Cannabis cultivation legal, putting in place a regulatory scheme not unlike that already in place in Canada, which re-legalized hemp farming in 1997. In part, farmers must submit to criminal background checks, provide GPS coordinates for their crops and agree to grow hemp strains known to contain just trace amounts of tetrahydracannibinol, or THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. “Every effort was made to address the concerns raised by DEA in the rulemaking process,” Johnson wrote to DEA Administrator Karen Tandy, urging her to waive registration for NoDak farmers. The annual non-refundable fee for federal hemp farmer licensing is nearly $2,300, making it cost-prohibitive for many farmers to contemplate adding hemp to their crop rotation. NoDak intends to begin licensing its first farmers in February, Johnson said, and is urging Tandy to “move quickly” to waive registration so the state’s farmers could begin planting the crop this spring. “Industrial hemp production has little potential for criminal activity,” Johnson said. “Our regulations require licensed…farmers to submit to criminal background checks, fingerprinting, seed certification and mandatory laboratory tests, and to provide [GPS] coordinates that identify and locate” the fields, he noted, regulatory checkpoints that would actually help the DEA keep an eye on NoDak cultivation, Johnson said.

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