Michigan launches hemp farming program

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
In this April 23, 2018 photo, Trevor Eubanks, plant manager for Big Top Farms, shovels dried hemp as branches hang drying in barn rafters overhead at their production facility near Sisters, Ore. A glut of legal marijuana has driven pot prices to rock-bottom levels in Oregon, and an increasing number of nervous growers are pivoting to another type of cannabis to make ends meet--hemp.

Lansing — Michigan is “uniquely positioned” to grow, process and manufacture industrial hemp, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday as the state launched a new pilot program for the 2019 planting season.

The 2018 federal farm bill signed by President Donald Trump authorized commercial processing and production of industrial hemp, once shunned because of its relationship to marijuana, but rules are not expected to be finalized until 2020.

In the meantime, Michigan is inviting farmers to grow the crop as part a pilot program for hemp research authorized under a 2014 federal law. The state is planning a series of on-site licensing events this month in Lansing, with a grower license costing $100.

“Michigan’s pilot program allows our farmers to explore the production and processing for hemp to determine whether or not this is a financially viable crop for them,” Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director Gary McDowell said in a statement.

 “It also helps pave the way for Michigan growers as we move toward a permanent licensing program next year to identify and expand value-added hemp processing and new market prospects.”

Hemp is derived from the same plant species as marijuana but does not include the psychoactive elements. As a crop, it can be used in products like paper, cosmetics clothing and construction material.

The emerging crop will produce new opportunities for farmers and related businesses, Whitmer said.

“Michigan is uniquely positioned to grow, process and manufacture industrial hemp,” she said. “We are one of the nation’s most agriculturally diverse states — growing 300 different commodities on a commercial basis — making it a natural fit.”

Michigan lawmakers first authorized hemp research in 2014 and last fall expanded the law requiring the agricultural department to establish, operate and administer an industrial hemp licensing and registration program.

The marijuana legalization proposal approved by voters last fall also sought to legalize the hemp industry in Michigan and directed to the state to create rules for cultivation, processing, distribution and sales.

Under the industrial hemp pilot program, participants will be required to enter into a research agreement with the state, which will consider work by licensees as research conducted on behalf of the department.

The state will hold on-site licensing events April 24, 24, 29 and 30 at Michigan State University’s Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education. Licensing costs $1,350 for processor-handlers who want to convert the crop into a marketable product, but state licensed medical marijuana processors and testers are exempt from the fee.