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DeWine Signs Hemp Legalization Bill

Source: The Hannah Report

Ohio farmers will soon be legally allowed to cultivate hemp and consumers can immediately buy hemp-derived products such as cannabidiol (CBD) at Ohio retailers after Gov. Mike DeWine signed SB57 (S. Huffman-Hill) on Tuesday at the Ohio State Fair.

Joined by Ohio Department of Agriculture Director (ODAg) Dorothy Pelanda, primary bill sponsors Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) and former Sen. Brian Hill (R-Zanesville), as well as House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee Chairman Kyle Koehler (R-Springfield) and Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank Hoagland (R-Adena), among other lawmakers, DeWine said the bill will provide more opportunities for Ohioans.

“This is a free market decision. It’s a decision that farmers have to make based on what they think their particular needs are and what’s in their best interest. This crop is just an additional crop they now legally can grow,” DeWine told reporters following the bill signing.

The bill contained an emergency clause that allowed it to go into effect immediately so retailers can immediately retrieve CBD products that have been forced off the shelves by state regulators and local law enforcement. The bill changes Ohio law to mirror federal law, which doesn’t list hemp as a controlled substance. Of all the numerous products that can be made out of hemp, the vast majority of the plants will be used to make CBD, according to industry experts.

“The CBD product is now going to be regulated. It should be regulated,” DeWine said. “This is a product that certainly some people have found is helpful. I’ve had people say they give it to their dogs, and it’s helpful to their dogs. This is something that people make their own decision, but we have an ability through the ODAg to tell people what they’re buying.”

Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) Director Dorothy Pelanda told reporters the rulemaking process, including approval by the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR), will take about six months to complete. However, she said the department can immediately begin testing CBD products to ensure they are correctly labeled.

“We will be going to the Controlling Board in August to make a budgetary request so we can outfit our labs and get our technicians and our specialists ready to go,” Pelanda said, noting the request will be for $12 million.

“Our food safety team can start traveling the state and pulling samples off shelves to make sure there is truth in labeling. They cannot make claims that it cures cancer or cures arthritis. But they can allow certain items to say it ‘has a calming effect.’ Our team is very precise about what they can and can’t say,” Pelanda said. “We’re also looking for products that are obviously homemade. You’re going to see these in farmer’s markets. You’re going to see liquid in Mason jars, and those are the things we can immediately seize or issue an embargo on at this time.”

Pelanda also said it’s important to verify that CBD products actually contain CBD at all, or the amount of CBD it claims to contain on the label.

Pelanda said the department’s new hemp website and Facebook page went live minutes after DeWine signed SB57.

“I believe that our primary focus going forward is to educate the public about what hemp is and what it can be used for,” Pelanda said. “We’ve got six people manning phones at the ODAg with the goal of educating the public and getting information from people who want to consider growing hemp. We can’t process applications until the JCARR process is done, but we can certainly spend the next several months traveling the state and educating the public about hemp and what opportunities there are for growers and processors.”

Ohio Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Adam Sharp praised SB57 in a statement.

“Industrial hemp will give Ohio farmers another crop option to help them diversify their farms and possibly find another stream of revenue to offset years of declining commodity prices,” Sharp said. “We are pleased that the state Legislature passed and Gov. DeWine signed SB57, and we look forward to working with the ODAg as the program begins to take shape.”

Following the bill signing, Green Light Acquisitions (GLA) President Ian James said the name of his previously-announced hemp industry group will be called Ohio Hemp Industry Alliance (OHIA). 

OHIA has filed as a 501(c)(4) educational organization and as a political action committee (PAC), according to the news release from James. Well-known Statehouse lobbyist Neil Clark will serve as CEO of the group, saying his “network and negotiating skills are more important than ever in the industry’s infancy and frustrate his adversaries to no end.”

“I have a long working relationship with the governor, speaker and president of the Senate, as well as dozens and dozens of legislators on both sides of the aisle,” Clark said. “I will utilize the network I’ve built over the last four decades to ensure the hemp industry gets off the ground and starts growing as quickly as possible, and will help farmers, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers realize the benefits and strengths hemp and its byproducts have to offer.”

Clark said his hemp educational fund will assist lawmakers, regulators and the leaders of other industries in learning more about hemp and the role it can play in the state.

“We know how important education and open dialogue can be when starting anything new, and that education and open dialogue is even greater when starting an agribusiness that can have a $1 billion economic impact and become Ohio’s third-largest crop behind corn and soy,” Clark said. “We look to be a strong voice for the industry and to help the industry navigate the regulatory waters. Along the way, we’ll also be sure to leverage the power of our PAC to promote those who help the industry at the ballot box, where we will ensure that we highlight those who stand in the way of progress.”

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