The United States Departments of Agriculture (USDA) recently approved Maryland’s hemp plan, making it legal to produce the plant, according to an announcement posted on the website of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. This move is in line with the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 or 2018 Farm Bill, which mandated the USDA to create a program that would oversee and regulate the production of industrial plants.

With the 2018 Farm Bill, the USDA formed the US Domestic Hemp Production Program, which allows the department to approve plans submitted by states and tribes. These plans, which offer practices and procedures involved are slowly being approved by the department.

Maryland’s plan, while it provides production details which producers will follow, will still be covered by federal laws.

Hemp Production Program in Maryland

Not The First Time

Despite having the production program approved recently, this is not the first time that Maryland is establishing an industrial hemp program. Maryland’s Department of Agriculture has previously launched its Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program as a pilot research program leading up to the passing of the 2018 law.

The pilot program seeks to “register industrial hemp growing sites and facilitate the research of industrial hemp in any aspect of growing, cultivating, harvesting, processing, manufacturing, transporting, marketing, or selling.” Qualified farmers were allowed to grow the industrial crop as long as they partner up with a research institution such as a university or the state’s department. The program is intended for various purposes including agricultural, industrial, or commercial.

Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder said, “Industrial hemp is another opportunity for Maryland farmers to diversify their operations and one more way that we can ensure rural Maryland is open for business.” Bartenfelder also mentioned that its inaugural year was successful with the participation of numerous farmers from the state. In 2019, there were 69 registered sites with 8 partner institutions.

In January this year, Maryland opened up applications for this pilot program once again. Bartenfelder is optimistic that this year will be as successful as the first one.

Meanwhile, the Maryland Department of Agriculture will be releasing details of the recently approved crop production plan when available. The USDA AMS said that once the plans are approved, they will remain in effect until a suspension or revocation is issued by the USDA. The state or tribe could also cause changes in the implementation of the plan by revising their programs.

Signing off on a “Rolling Basis”

The 2018 Farm Bill states that farmers must be “licensed or authorized under a state, tribe or USDA production program” in order to produce hemp. The USDA’s endorsement of the Maryland hemp plan gives it the right to cultivate and harvest industrial hemp.

The decision to allow Maryland’s crop production plan came with the approval for the Lower Sioux Indian Community’s own program. The USDA AMS has been giving their endorsement on various US territories and tribes on a rolling basis. The addition of these two brings the total number of USDA-approved hemp regulatory programs in US territories and tribes to 55.

Out of the 41 tribes, 35 have received approval, 3 are under review, while another 3 have expressed interest or intent to submit a plan to the USDA. Among the 50 US states, only 20 have received the go signal including Tennessee and West Virginia. Meanwhile, 16 states will continue to operate under the 2014 pilot including Virginia, 6 are pending resubmission, 3 have expressed interest but have yet to submit a plan, 2 are under review, and 2 have USDA Hemp Producer Licenses. Only Idaho is with a status of “pending state legislation,” which means that law to legalize the crop in the state is yet to be passed.

Of the three US territories, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands have been approved while the Norther Marianas Island is pending state legislation. This is according to a list detailing the status of states’ and tribes’ hemp plans updated n August 13, 2020.

While territories, states, and tribes have acquired approval to produce the plant under the 2018 law, farmers are reminded that they still need to apply for a license or authorization under their specific territory, state, or tribe’s program. However, farmers in places that are yet to receive approval can apply for a license directly from the USDA so long as the territory, state, or tribe allows the production of the crop.

Farmers can receive guidance from various organizations such as the Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Risk Management Agency (RMA). They will also be given the chance to participate in USDA programs in 2020 such as Whole-Farm Revenue Protection, Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program and NRCS-administered conservation programs. They will also be eligible for various farm loans such as for funding operations, ownership, starting, and storage facilities.

2014 vs 2018 Farm Bills

The 2014 Farm Bill is primarily focused on pilot programs to study the cultivation of the crop. It is under the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Meanwhile, the 2018 Farm Bill is the law that provides the authority to produce the plant. It is also responsible for removing the plant and its seeds from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) schedule of controlled substances. It mandated the USDA and required it to create a set of regulations and guidelines in order to have a program that would provide a regulatory framework for the cultivation of the plant. Overall, the 2018 law established the plant as a commodity, opening up more opportunities for farmers.

Hemp Production Program

The USDA explained that researchers and farmers will be covered by the 2014 Farm Bill, especially Section 7606 which outlines guidelines, will be in effect until the AMS establishes rules pursuant to the 2018 law. Moreover, Section 7606 will still be an option for researchers for at least one year after the AMS rules take effect.

The USDA AMS clarified that the Domestic Hemp Production Program brought by the 2018 Farm Bill will not affect the cultivation of existing hemp done under the 2014 Farm Bill programs.

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