Pilot Industrial Hemp Program Now Final and Allows For Research Growing of Hemp in Maryland

Image of first UK Industrial Hemp Field Day at Spindletop Research Farm. Image by University of Kentucky.

This post is not legal advice.

In 2016, the Maryland General Assembly first passed legislation allowing for the development of an Industrial Hemp Pilot Program in the state.  That program was recently updated in 2018 by House Bill (HB) 698 to allow farmers contracting with the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) or Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) in Maryland to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. Production of hemp under the program must further either agricultural or academic research. HB 698 became effective on July 1, 2018, MDA has recently issued final regulations to implement this pilot program effective on January 28, 2019, and can be found here

Key Terms in HB 698

            Growers considering participating in a research program with an IHE will need to understand some terms before entering the program.  The new legislation defines “industrial hemp” to be the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta–9–tetrahydrocannabinol concentration not exceeding 0.3% on a dry weight basis.  An “institution of higher education” or a university is defined in the federal Higher Education Act of 1965.  Under this federal law, the majority of universities in the state of Maryland and in other states would qualify for the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program.

Understanding the Regulations to Grow Industrial Hemp

            Under the regulations, an IHE or MDA will be able to contract with individual growers to grow industrial hemp for agricultural or academic research.  IHEs or MDA will only be able to contract with growers that meet certain qualifications:

  1. At least 18 years old;
  2. Pass a criminal background test with no felony convictions in the past 10 years;
  3. Own or lease, with the approval of the owner, the property used to grow and cultivate hemp;
  4. Have the site registered and approved with MDA before contracting to grow or cultivate hemp;
  5. Grant MDA permission to enter and inspect the property to ensure compliance with the requirements of this chapter;
  6. Only grow hemp on land zoned for agricultural purposes that is at least 1,000 feet from a school or public recreation area;
  7. Post a sign on the certified site that notifies the public that the site is used in a pilot program to grow industrial hemp; and
  8. Attend an orientation session by MDA, in cooperation with the IHE, before contracting to grow or cultivate hemp that explains the requirements of regulations.

Prospective growers will need to apply with an IHE as well and those applications will not be dealt with in this article.  To view MDA’s website for the pilot hemp program, click here.

             Once the IHE has determined growers meet the qualifications to participate with the IHE, the IHE or grower will apply to MDA for approval to grow, cultivate, harvest, process, manufacture, transport, market, or sell industrial hemp as apart of agricultural or academic research.  When applying to MDA, the IHE or grower will need to describe the site where industrial hemp will be grown with an address and map clearly showing site with GPS coordinates.  Included with the application will need to be a diagram for the site with any buildings (such as barns or houses), structures (such as granaries, fences, etc), and improvements on the site that includes uses of each and what activities are taking place on the site.  The application will also need to identify the intended academic or agricultural research purpose.  Finally, the grower will need to pay a $250 fee to MDA plus any additional fees to the IHE that the IHE may charge to cover the cost of the industrial hemp research program.

Image shows field day for hemp research plots with University of Kentucky. Image by University of Kentucky.

            Once a grower is approved by MDA and the IHE and participating in research with an IHE, the grower will need to verify that the plants grown meet the definition of industrial hemp which is means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentration (THC) that does not exceed 0.3% on a dry weight basis. 

            To verify the industrial hemp plants meet the requirements, hemp plants will be  independently tested from a lab that performs testing of medical cannabis in the state.  The testing can also be performed by on-farm inspections and verifications from the IHE.  The MDA will develop testing protocols that will need to be followed in order to verify the THC levels are below 0.3% on a dry weight basis. The grower will need to maintain all records needed to verify at the site and make available to either MDA or the IHE.  Any industrial hemp that exceeds 0.3% on a dry weight basis of THC will need to be destroyed by the grower within seven days under the supervision of the IHE or MDA.

What Does This Mean for You?

            Currently, industrial hemp is legal to produce in the state as long as you are producing it in the pilot program.  AGNR is currently working to finalize a research program for a limited number of growers to participate in.  Other universities in the state are also working to finalize their research programs.  Universities in other states may be looking to partner with Maryland growers as well in this research program.  Please keep in mind that the IHEs will potentially not be able to handle a large number of growers in their individual research programs.

            The 2018 Farm Bill has eliminated the need for hemp to be grown under pilot research programs, but currently Maryland needs to update laws in order to qualify for this new provision.  Currently, the Maryland General Assembly would need to give MDA the authority to create a hemp production plan to allow production outside of the pilot research program.  MDA only has the authority to create a hemp pilot research program and would need additional authority to develop the hemp production plan and any additional protections that the General Assembly may want to add beyond what the 2018 Farm Bill does. For more information on the 2018 Farm Bill hemp provisions, see here.  Until then, hemp remains only legal to produce in Maryland while participating in the pilot research program through MDA.

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