Kahn & Franson Testify in House Ag Finance Committee

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, left, and Rep. Mary Franson testify before the House Agriculture Finance Committee April 7 in support of a bill that would provide funding for an industrial hemp pilot program.

(ST. PAUL, MN) In 2015, Minnesota began its first foray in decades into legal agricultural production of industrial hemp under a pilot program.

The 2014 federal Farm Bill gave states the legal ability to establish pilot programs that allow their departments of agriculture to research growing, cultivating and marketing hemp.

However, complications from strict and often conflicting federal regulation has slowed the state Department of Agriculture’s ability to implement the program.

Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) sponsors HF3184, which would appropriate $500,000 annually starting in Fiscal Year 2017 to fund the state’s industrial hemp pilot program. She also sponsors HF3185 that makes the $500,000 a one-time appropriation.

Both bills were laid over Thursday by the House Agriculture Finance Committee. Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley) sponsors both companion bills, SF3075/ SF3076, which await action by the Senate Finance Committee.

Agriculture finance committee hears HF3184, a bill to fund industrial hemp program 4/7/16

Franson and Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Mpls), a co-sponsor on the two hemp bills, said the funding is not only essential for the program’s success, but it would cover administrative, equipment and eventual field inspection costs.

WATCH Committee discussion of the bill on YouTube

Geir Friisoe, director of the Plan Protection Division for the Department of Agriculture, oversees getting the program off the ground, which has required diverting funding and resources.

“What’s really critical is we get support for the administrative costs. Otherwise, I can’t see us continuing with the program,” Friisoe said.

Regulatory challenges

Hemp seeds and oils can be used to make a variety of products, from fabrics and foods to fuels and paper. Industrial hemp is different than marijuana because it has significantly less THC – the chemical that can produce a “high.”

The federal government still bans any amount of THC as a Schedule 1 drug. As a result, purchasing hemp seed across state lines is illegal. States must register with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to be allowed to import from international sources.

The Department of Agriculture hasn’t obtained seeds because the DEA didn’t finish registering them until last month, Friisoe said. The department must submit an application and receive approval each time it wants to purchase seeds, he said.

Currently, the department is soliciting proposals from prospective growers for hemp research projects.

Friisoe said they hope to begin planting in 2016.