Kansas moving forward on industrial hemp; licenses could be available by spring

photo by: Associated Press

In this Sept. 25, 2016 file photo, a sign beside an industrial hemp field warns off trespassers at JD Farms in Eaton, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mary Esch)

TOPEKA – The Kansas Department of Agriculture is gearing up to start issuing licenses for farmers to grow industrial hemp for research purposes, and the agency hopes to start issuing those licenses in time for next year’s spring planting season.

Agency spokeswoman Heather Lansdowne said in an interview Friday that proposed rules and regulations were submitted earlier this week to the Department of Administration’s Division of Budget. That’s the first step in a long process that will lead to establishing an industrial hemp program in Kansas.

And although the program will at first be limited only to research-based production, and not commercial production, officials say they are hopeful that industrial hemp will eventually have a big economic impact on the state’s agricultural industry.

“The authorizing statute is research-focused, and the commercial production of hemp is currently not allowed in Kansas,” the agency wrote in an economic impact statement that was submitted as part of the proposed rules and regulations. “However, significant long-term enhancement of business activity is possible as an indirect result of these rules and regulations, as a successful research-based pilot program may lead to the eventual legalization of commercial industrial hemp in Kansas.”

Hemp was once a major commercial crop in the United States. The plant was used mainly for making fabric and rope. However, because it is closely related to marijuana, it was criminalized nationwide in 1970.

In the 2014 Farm Bill, however, Congress authorized states to conduct pilot programs to study the cultivation and possible commercial uses of hemp through their state departments of agriculture and public universities.

After years of efforts, Kansas lawmakers in April finally passed a bill authorizing the Kansas Department of Agriculture to issue licenses for farmers to grow industrial hemp for research purposes, and for other businesses to conduct research into potential commercial uses of the crop.

Meanwhile, Congress is now working on a new Farm Bill that, among other things, would legalize hemp production nationwide. That bill is currently in a House-Senate conference committee but is expected to be voted on before the end of this month.

According to the Department of Agriculture, the Kansas program will be somewhat more expansive than the one in neighboring Nebraska, which limits licenses to growers who are affiliated with its state Department of Agriculture or its higher education institutions.

Missouri, the agency noted, allows no more than two nonprofit entities to grow and process industrial hemp or hemp extracts. Oklahoma’s program only allows postsecondary institutions to grow industrial hemp for research purposes or subcontract with individuals to do so.

But the Kansas program will be significantly more restrictive than the industrial hemp program in Colorado, which also has legalized both medicinal and recreational marijuana.

Lansdowne said the agency is working under a tight schedule in order to get the program up and running in time for the spring planting season.

She said the agency hopes to start allowing interested parties to file “notices of intent” to apply for licenses as early as October, but there are still several more steps involved in finalizing the rules and regulations that will govern the program.

After a review by the Department of Administration, the draft rules and regulations still must be approved by the attorney general’s office. From there, they go to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and Regulations for discussion and comment by lawmakers. The final step is to open the proposed rules and regulations for public comment.

Lansdowne said the agency hopes to complete that process by the end of the year so potential growers and processors can begin applying for licenses in early 2019.

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