Hemp in CA: A Post-Farm Bill Update

After the new Farm Bill was signed into law last month, I keep hearing folks declaring that hemp is legal now. And it is, kinda. While the 2018 Farm Bill did not create a hemp free-for-all, it did create a legal pathway for the production and interstate distribution of legally produced hemp. Here’s a high-level overview for California farmers:

1. What’s the Difference between the 2014 Farm Bill and the 2018 Farm Bill?

The 2014 Farm Bill allowed the cultivation of industrial hemp in a “pilot program” for research. Importantly, the pilot programs can only be conducted by (1) the state’s departments of agriculture, or (2) universities.

In Oregon and Colorado, the state worked with registered cultivators to grow hemp under that state’s pilot program, which was a brilliant workaround to the 2014 Farm Bill restrictions. However, it remained risky for the farmers because that approach arguably left farmers without federal protection for the distribution of their products.

Just last month, however, Congress flipped the script by enacting full tilt legalization ofregulated hemp production and interstate distribution of hemp that is produced in compliance with the 2018 Farm Bill. By its express terms, the 2018 Farm Bill allows the interstate shipment or transport of hemp and hemp products (which includes hemp-derived CBD, as well as hemp seeds). Individual states can’t even prohibit the shipments through their borders This is a notable difference from the 2014 Farm Bill, which does not protect hemp shipments or transport through unfriendly states.

Two HUGE side notes:

  • Folks with drug felonies in the past 10 years are not allowed to participate in the new hemp program.
  • Cultivation outside the regulated program is reported directly to federal prosecutors.

2. When Can California Farmers Cultivate Hemp?

Last fall, California appeared to be headed for a pilot program that would pair the state with registered growers, similar to Oregon and Colorado, when our Legislature enacted SB 1409 in October. However, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill only two months later, which widened the allowable scope for hemp cultivation in California. As such, I hope the state is considering legislation to broaden SB 1409’s allowances in accordance with the new federal scope.

In any event, in order to cultivate hemp legally in California, the grower will not need to get a license from the state. Instead, they will “register” with the Ag Commissioner in the County they want to grow in. Registration is currently unavailable until the state finishes its hemp regulations, which it is working on now.

The state won’t give specific ETAs for the program, but I’m optimistic this amazing plant will be under cultivation in our beautiful state by the 2020 season. For the most current hemp regulations updates from the state, you can sign up here:

Since the hemp programs in Oregon and elsewhere were successful even before the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, many farmers who want to transition into hemp are preparing now.

If folks are interested in farming hemp in California, there is definitely work that can be done now, so talk to your legal advisers sooner rather than later.  

Much respect,
heather b. 

#protectourfarmers #madrespect 

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