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Hemp bill moves to DeWine’s desk

By Ellen Essman, Senior Research Associate, OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law Program

It’s been busy in Columbus, with the Ohio General Assembly sending multiple bills to Governor Mike DeWine for his signature. One of the bills is one we have been following very closely — Substitute Senate Bill 57, or the “hemp bill.”

Ohio’s hemp bill was originally introduced in the Senate in February. The bill was written in response to the 2018 federal Farm Bill, which gave states the option to create hemp programs so that citizens within the state could cultivate and sell hemp products. For a breakdown of the Farm Bill, see our post here. Ohio’s hemp bill passed the Senate in March, and was sent to the House, where numerous amendments were made.

The Ohio House made many changes to the Senate’s original hemp bill. Most importantly, the House version, in addition to requiring a license to cultivate hemp, also requires a license to process hemp into different products. Additionally, the House’s substitute version of the bill created a Hemp Marketing Program, which would be similar to other grain and soybean marketing programs, added legally cultivated hemp to the list of agricultural uses permitted under CAUV, required setbacks between hemp and medical marijuana cultivation, and banned people from obtaining both hemp licenses and medical marijuana licenses, among other changes.

We were not expecting the hemp bill to pass the General Assembly in July, as House Speaker Larry Householder indicated in June that the House would not vote on the bill until September 2019. However, on July 17, 2019, the bill passed in the House with emergency language, and the changes were quickly accepted by the Senate. During the July 17 afternoon legislative session, we were given some possible insight into why the bill passed so quickly and unexpectedly; State Representative Koehler spoke about the need to help Ohio’s farmers given all the struggles they currently face. Representative Koehler viewed quick passage of the bill as an opportunity for Ohio farmers to potentially have a new commodity crop in the ground next spring.

The emergency language in the final version of the bill means that once signed by the Governor, the law will go into immediate effect. In other words, once the bill passes, hemp and hemp products will be decriminalized in Ohio and the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) will be able to immediately begin the process of writing regulations to carry out the new hemp cultivation and processing programs.

Even with the emergency language in the bill, a few things still need to happen before farmers can plant hemp. First and most obviously, Governor DeWine still needs to sign the bill into law. Then, ODA must begin its hemp program rulemaking. The rules will not become effective until the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approves of Ohio’s hemp program. After USDA approves the program, then ODA will be able to approve licenses for those who want to cultivate and process hemp.

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