Farmers and hemp enthusiasts received some good news on Wednesday, July 17, last week when the Ohio House voted 88-3 in favor of a bill to decriminalize hemp and products made from hemp, including CBD oil.
“It’s been a terrible year with the tariffs that have been added from the federal government, as well as the rain that’s been unpredictable,” said House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron). “We know that the hemp industry is a growing industry where there is a lot of opportunity for farmers to grow their businesses, literally and figuratively. We hope that many people take advantage of it.”
Hemp and marijuana both originate from the Cannabis plant. When the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970, any use of cannabis was deemed illegal in the 50 states.
However, last year, the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 was passed which legalized hemp, removing it from the list of Schedule I controlled substances and considering it an agricultural commodity. Industrial hemp is defined largely by law as a variety of cannabis with a THC concentration of not more than 0.3 percent. THC is the primary psychoactive substance in the Cannabis plant, which gives users a “high.”
In the interim, many states have passed laws that have legalized hemp, and in some cases marijuana, but this bill will be the first step for Ohio to cash in on the new market.
This bill would allow hemp products such as textiles, paper products and CBD oil, for example, to be legalized. An acre of hemp could bring in $6,000 to $60,000 for farmers who would grow it, said Rep. Kyle Koehler, a Republican from Springfield.
According to the Ohio House of Representatives website, “As Chair of the Ohio House Ag and Rural Development Committee, I am excited to see Ohio Law aligned with Federal law concerning hemp,” said Rep. Koehler. “Farmers wanting to cultivate hemp and businesses wanting to process this newly available commodity crop will have solid guidelines to direct their success. Hemp is not new to our culture, but I am excited to see us finally recognize that hemp is not a narcotic and should be available for use in Ohio and the United States.”
This bill would also allow the release of CBD products that had been seized by the authorities under certain circumstances thanks to provisions included in the bill. This would allow the legislature to get previously confiscated products back to their owners quickly, according to Koehler.
As a further measure, if the bill is passed, it would also prohibit Ohio’s Board of Pharmacy from listing hemp as a controlled substance.
State Rep. Stephanie Howse, a Democrat from Cleveland, offered an amendment that would remove the clause blocking those with controlled substance-related felonies within the past 10 years from obtaining a license; however, this motion was tabled.
However, the House added some amendments that added additional requirements of finances, equipment, land and facilities that Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan said were unnecessary and would keep many producers out of the industry.
As well, any person who has been convicted of a felony related to a controlled substance within the past decade would be unable to get a license to grow hemp, in accordance with federal requirements.
The amendments made by the House were agreed upon by the Ohio Senate that same day. Now the bill will go to Gov. Mike DeWine. The governor can sign the act into law or veto it. If he signs it, Senate Bill 57 will go into effect immediately instead of after the standard 90 days thanks to a clause added to the bill. Currently, Ohio is behind other states of the union and needs to create a program to set in place quickly so farmers can harvest a crop next spring.
According to Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, the bill could provide farmers some relief.
“Farmers are getting hit pretty hard right now with the weather and things — the tariffs and the weather,” he said. “I think that it now can help them a little bit. It certainly can help universities like Ohio State University, as they continue to study hemp and try to perfect seeds and such.”
After the bill passed, Ian James, Jimmy Gould and Stephen Letourneau, as well as others involved in the politics around hemp and marijuana, announced that Neil Clark, a longtime Republican lobbyist, would head an Ohio-based hemp industry coalition. The coalition would monitor government and regulatory matters to advance the hemp industry’s interests in Ohio.
“We have worked for the better part of three years educating lawmakers, regulators and the leaders of other industries about hemp and the important part it can play in strengthening Ohio’s farm families, farming communities, manufacturers, retailers, consumers and more broadly, our state,” James said in a news release. “Neil has worked with us the past five years to get this right and keep us on track. His leadership will help the hemp industry in Ohio have a powerful voice and a focused strategic vision that will allow us to take decisive action with state and local governments.”
According to the Dayton Daily News, Senate Bill 57 has been backed by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce as well as more than 10 other business groups.