Reactions to hemp approval mixed

By David J. Coehrs -

While Ohio’s agricultural community is generally pleased with Gov. Mike DeWine’s approval Tuesday of industrial hemp and cannabidiol (CBD), the move elicited mixed reaction from the Ohio Farmers Union.

DeWine signed Senate Bill 57, which decriminalizes both hemp and CBD, after the legislation was passed by the Senate on March 28, and an amended version the Senate approved was passed by the House on July 17. Within 90 days Ohio farmers can grow industrial hemp, a crop the state had previously connected to marijuana, and retail outlets may sell CBD products.

Under S.B. 57, farmers who grow hemp must obtain a three-year license issued by the state’s Department of Agriculture. Universities will be able to grow and process hemp and related products for research purposes without a license.

Hemp and marijuana plants are similar, but marijuana contains more THC, the chemical that induces a physical “high.” S.B. 57 requires industrial hemp, which can be used in energy and in building, household, and paper products, to contain less than an 0.3 percentage of THC.

Cannabidiol, a chemical extracted from industrial hemp, doesn’t have the same potent properties as THC in marijuana and doesn’t cause a “high” effect. The new law allows store owners to continue selling CBD-infused products marketed to relieve pain, stress, and anxiety, products the state had been requesting retailers to remove from their shelves.

Ohio now joins 41 states that have legalized industrial hemp and CBD-related products. The federal government permitted programs for industrial hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill. Ohio S.B. 57 was sponsored primarily by District 5 Senator Stephen Huffman (R-Tipp City).

The Ohio Farmers Union worked extensively for decades to decriminalize industrial hemp, President Joe Logan said. But Tuesday’s victory has left the union less than satisfied.

Changes in the bill made in the House included provisions to develop a board through the Ohio Department of Agriculture to determine restrictions on hemp production. Logan said no such board exists for any other agricultural crop. He said he can find no reason why ODA Director Dorothy Pelanda should get involved.

“Frankly, we think it’s inappropriate,” Logan said. “We believe the product itself is benign, and we believe in the potential for farmers and customers. We think farmers that have an interest in farming this crop should be able to do so without restriction.”

He said the farm union fears the primary decisions of the board will be made by four members appointed by Pelanda.

“Language in the bill indicated the decisions of appointed members would carry far more weight than the decisions of the farmers elected (to the board),” Logan said. “The union’s experience is that the farmer has to pay the bill, and the benefits accrue to the processing and marketing corporations that are beyond the farm gate. We fully expect the circumstances to be the same here as well.”

District 5 Congressman Bob Latta declined to comment.

Industrial hemp was used by farmers in the past in place of twine, Fulton County OSU Extension Educator Eric Richer said. He sees no reason it shouldn’t be used for diversity in crop rotation, especially in an era when corn, bean, and wheat prices are at their lowest in the past 10 years.

“Diverse crops are good for farmers willing to take those risks, and its good for soil health,” Richer said. “It’d be no different than suggesting that farmers put pumpkins or barley or green beans into their rotation.”

He emphasized he does not support industrial hemp use for inappropriate or illegal uses that might be found.

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.