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How to Get a License to Grow Hemp
A provision in the 2018 Farm Bill that was recently passed into law removes hemp from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, making it a federally legal substance. Industrial hemp is the cannabis sativa plant that has been used extensively throughout history due to the plant’s various uses. Because both hemp and marijuana originate from the genus Cannabis, hemp suffered from the same stigma that surrounds its psychoactive cousin, marijuana. However, hemp has very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that causes marijuana’s psychological effects, or what is often described as a “high.” To remain legal, the hemp product must have a THC content of no more than 0.03%.
Because hemp is touted as a cash crop with over 25,000 applications, it’s easy to see why entrepreneurs are attracted to the many business opportunities in the production of industrial hemp. Many entrepreneurs looking into becoming industrial hemp growers look forward to creating more jobs for their local communities and enjoying the expected high return on investment.
However, while hemp is now legal on a federal level, each state still has its own laws and regulations on hemp cultivation. In this guide, we will discuss the national hemp program and hemp licensing application instructions to become a licensed industrial hemp grower.
Learn About Your State’s Local Hemp Production Program
The Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was set up to oversee and regulate the national hemp growing program. In October 2019, the USDA officially announced the Domestic Hemp Production Program, which outlined the federal framework allowing state departments of agriculture to submit their plans to produce and regulate the crop.
Before you can grow hemp, you need to be licensed under your state hemp program. Despite hemp being federally legal, some states still have a ban on the commercial growing of hemp; currently, the list of states with no hemp program are Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and South Dakota. As of writing, forty-six states have an industrial hemp law permitting industrial hemp production.
Because not all states have a hemp production plan, your first step should be to determine if your local department of agriculture has a hemp program approved by the USDA or has submitted one for review. You can find the list of contacts of growers by state at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA).
NASDA supports the production, processing, and commercialization of hemp and acts as an advisor for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the regulatory framework for CBD products. Now that hemp is legal on a federal level, so are hemp-derived products, which include CBD products derived from hemp.
Applying for Your State’s Hemp Program
If your state’s hemp production program has been approved by the USDA or is in the process of developing and submitting a plan, you can apply for a license under its industrial hemp program. However, if your state does not have an approved or pending hemp production plan, you could still apply for a USDA hemp production plan. Unfortunately, the application window for licensing closed on November 30, 2019.
There are two ways to apply for a license – electronically through the USDA Domestic Hemp Production Program website or by traditional mail. For states that have approved or pending hemp production plans, the USDA accepts license applications year-round; licenses are valid for one calendar year.
One of the main requirements to apply for licensing to grow hemp is an FBI criminal history report. Hemp production licenses are not granted to applicants who have been convicted of a felony related to a controlled substance in the last decade.
The FBI can provide you with an Identity History Summary, more commonly known as a “rap sheet,” for a fee. If you’ve never been arrested, the FBI will give you a document that proves you do not have an arrest history. The summary lists all arrest information, if any – including the date, the charge, and disposition of the arrest.
There are three ways to submit a request for Identity History Summary – electronically via the FBI website, by traditional mail, or via an FBI-approved channeler. Currently, the cost to request an Identity History Summary is $18, regardless of which option you choose. Processing time for requests for an Identity History Summary is 3-5 days when request is submitted electronically, and 2-4 weeks when the request is submitted via mail. Whichever channel you choose to request an FBI criminal report, you must submit your fingerprints and any relevant data.
The other requirements to apply for licensing to grow or process hemp for industrial and commercial purposes may vary from state to state. However, most grower license and registration applications are the same. You will need to provide the following information on the application form:
Business and contact information – Basic information including the legal names of the applicants, business entity, name of business, business location, and contact numbers and emails.
Hemp field or Greenhouse locations – Location name, county, and the town or municipality of your hemp field or greenhouse location. You may also need to provide its exact location in terms of latitude and longitude. This section also includes the size of the hemp field or greenhouse, likely described in acres.
Applied Research – Applied research refers to industrial hemp research into harvesting techniques, cultivation equipment, nutrient inputs, storage, plant pest control, crop rotation, and so on.
You will also need to pay the applicable fees, which will likely include a grower license fee, an annual grower registration fee, processor registration fee, sampling/testing fee. You may also need to sign the research program agreement, an agreement between the department of agriculture and your state’s hemp pilot program.