By Ed Lentz

There’s a great deal of interest in hemp cultivation and hemp laws in Ohio since the passage of the federal farm bill, which allows states to develop hemp cultivation programs with approval by USDA.

A bill was introduced in the Ohio Senate in late February that would decriminalize hemp cultivation and the production and sale of hemp products.

Evin Bachelor, Ohio State University Extension law agriculture fellow, highlights the recent bill:

Ten of Ohio’s 33 state senators have introduced and sponsored legislation that would decriminalize licensed hemp cultivation and production in the state of Ohio. These senators represent a bipartisan mix of seven Republicans and three Democrats.

Current Ohio law does not distinguish hemp from marijuana, meaning that hemp is currently just as illegal under Ohio law as marijuana. Senate Bill 57 would change that, if passed.

Senate Bill 57, in its current form, would effectively decriminalize hemp cultivation and the production and sale of hemp products, so long as the activities are conducted under a license. The bill establishes definitions for cannabidiol and hemp under Ohio law.

Specially, hemp would be defined as: “The plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than three-tenths percent on a dry weight basis.”

Importantly for hemp cultivators and producers, this bill would remove hemp from Ohio’s Controlled Substances Act.

Previous legislation moved Ohio’s controlled substances schedules from the Ohio Revised Code to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. This change would have allowed sales of CBD oils that had obtained approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

However, if Senate Bill 57 passes the Ohio General Assembly, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy would no longer be able to adopt rules designating hemp and hemp products as controlled substances.

In Senate Bill 57, the director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) would be required to establish a program to monitor and regulate hemp cultivation consistent with the requirements of the new farm bill. The farm bill authorizes the cultivation of hemp and the production of hemp products through state licensing programs.

Ohio’s program would include a licensing program. Licenses would be valid for five years. ODA and universities would not be required to obtain a license, but their activities would be limited to certain activities listed in the bill.

Hemp cultivation would still be illegal without a license, and violators could face criminal misdemeanor charges.

The bill authorizes ODA to adopt regulations regarding:

• What the license application looks like.

• What information the license application requires.

• How much will a license cost.

• How background checks will be conducted, and what they will examine.

• How ODA will issue, renew, deny, suspend, and revoke hemp cultivation licenses.

• How ODA will keep track of the lands where hemp is grown.

• How ODA will test for delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration.

• How hemp products must be labeled.

• How ODA will enforce the rules and conduct inspections.

• “Any other requirements or procedures necessary to administer and enforce” Ohio’s hemp cultivation program.

The bill would deny licenses to any person who has pleaded guilty to or been convicted of a felony relating to controlled substances in the 10 years before submitting their application, along with any person found to have falsified information on their application.

To administer the program, the bill would create a Hemp Cultivation Fund in the Ohio Treasury. Application fees, fees collected from program operations, money appropriated to the program by the General Assembly or ODA, and any gifts or grants could be deposited into the fund for use in program administration.

At this time, the bill has only been introduced and referred to the Ohio Senate Agriculture Committee. Bills are often subject to amendment. The full text of the bill may be found at https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/legislation/legislation-summary?id=GA133-SB-57

Hemp production will not begin in Ohio until the Legislature changes its legal status, even with the legalization by the farm bill. If legislation like Senate Bill 57 passes this year, farmers may be able to consider producing hemp in 2020.

Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for the Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at lentz.38@osu.edu.

Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.

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