Hemp-Farming Update

North Dakota Ag commissioner asks DEA to waive individual federal registration requirements for state's licensed hemp farmers

As North Dakota moves ever closer to licensing its first farmers to begin cultivating industrial hemp, Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said on Dec. 27 that 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. Although cultivation of industrial cannabis, the nonnarcotic 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 one such request, to researchers in Hawaii, for which the permit 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 crop – one that could, in fact, revitalize the agricultural economy – claiming, repeatedly, that hemp legalization 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 any pot crop impotent.

Earlier this year, the state finally enacted rules to make industrial-cannabis cultivation legal, putting in place a regulatory scheme not unlike that in place in Canada, which relegalized 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 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. "Every effort was made to address the concerns raised by DEA in the rule-making process," Johnson reportedly wrote in a communication to DEA administrator Karen Tandy, urging her to waive registration for NoDak farmers. The annual nonrefundable fees for federal hemp-farmer licensing is nearly $2,300, making it cost-prohibitive for many farmers to contemplate adding hemp to their annual crop rotation. NoDak intends to begin licensing its first farmers in February, Johnson said, and has urged 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, regulatory checkpoints that would actually help the DEA keep an eye on NoDak cultivation, Johnson said. (For more on the NoDak hemp movement, see "Industrial Hemp Coming to North Dakota," Sept. 1.)

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hemp farming, Roger Johnson, hemp, industrial cannabis, Karen Tandy, DEA

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