Thursday, April 21, 2016

Minnesota's industrial hemp pilot program seeks funding

By Josh Moniz

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota political leaders established a pilot hemp production program last year, but now backers of the product say state money is needed.
In 2015, Minnesota began its first foray in decades into legal agricultural production of industrial hemp. It was possible because 2014 federal legislation gave states the power to launch pilot programs that allow their departments of agriculture to research growing, cultivating and marketing hemp. It is a restrictive provision, not allowing most farmers to grow the crop.
However, complications from strict, and often conflicting, federal regulations slowed the state Department of Agriculture’s ability to implement the program, a Minnesota House committee heard.
Legislation to help the program would spend $500,000 annually starting in Fiscal Year 2017 to fund the hemp pilot program. Another bill makes the $500,000 a one-time appropriation, giving lawmakers an option about how to proceed.
Both bills are being considered House Agriculture Finance Committee. Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, sponsors both companion bills, which await action by the Senate Finance Committee.
Reps. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, and Phyllis Kahn, D-Minneapolis, said the funding is not only essential for the program’s success, but it would cover administrative, equipment and eventual field inspection costs.
Geir Friisoe, director of the Plant Protection Division for the state Department of Agriculture, oversees getting the program off the ground, which has required diverting funding and resources.
"What’s really critical is we get support for the administrative costs," Friisoe said. "Otherwise, I can’t see us continuing with the program."
Hemp seeds and oils can be used to make a variety of products, from fabrics and foods to fuels and paper. Industrial hemp is related to, but different than, marijuana. It contains significantly less THC, the chemical that can produce a high.
The federal government still bans any amount of THC as a Schedule 1 drug. As a result, purchasing hemp seed across state lines is illegal. States must register with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to be allowed to import from international sources.
The Department of Agriculture hasn’t obtained seeds because the DEA didn’t finish registering them until last month, Friisoe said. The department must submit an application and receive approval each time it wants to purchase seeds, he said.
Currently, the department is soliciting proposals from prospective growers for hemp research projects.
Friisoe said they hope to begin planting this year.
The nonpartisan Minnesota House Public Information Office online publication Session Daily is available

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