New state plan has hemp growers uncertain about the future

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Hemp growers in Michigan say they’re frustrated by the new regulations and fees for reporting hemp samples.

The changes by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development leave many hemp growers saying it’s uncertain if they can afford to grow next season.

Industrial hemp in Michigan started with a 2018 federal law that removed hemp, known as Cannabis Sativa L, as a schedule 1 controlled substance and made it an agricultural commodity, according to the U.S Food and Drug Administration. 

In April 2019, the state department launched the Industrial Hemp Ag Pilot program for the 2019 growing season. 

Growers could apply to participate in the pilot program, which required a $100 registration fee, as well as a $1,350 processor-handlers license.

According to the department, industrial hemp is cannabis that has less than or equal to .3% 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). 

After the success of the pilot program, the department wanted to have a permanent plan in place. Last October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Michigan’s industrial hemp state plan. 

At the time, the state department said  631 growers and 517 processor-handlers were registered and/or licensed to grow, process and market industrial hemp.

The department has changed how growers will report their samples this year. 

They will no longer submit their own samples for testing. Instead, inspectors will collect samples. Growers will pay a $150 sample collection site visit fee and $125 per sample lab testing fee, as well as the $1,250 licensing fee. 

Randy Lord, the owner of Empire Hemp Farm Inc. in Empire, said he’s unsure whether he’ll plant next season due to the fee increase and added sample collection fees. Lord’s company planted 120,000 plants in the summer of 2020. 

“That’s about 1,500-1,600 plants an acre,” he said.

David Crabill, the vice president of Ferrysburg-based iHemp Michigan, an organization representing hemp farmers, said that the sample collection fees are common and aren’t a big deal for farms that grow multiple acres of cannabinoids.

Crabill said the fees increased to cover the expenses incurred to comply with federal rules.

He said the main problem with the new state plan is the testing window that doesn’t let farmers control when the inspection takes place.

So, if the inspection is on the 20th day, said Crabill, the THC concentration might be over the legal limit, requiring destruction of the plants. 

Lori Putt, the owner of HOH Hempnotized in Honor, said she’s also uncertain about planting this year and talked about a decline in the industry.

“The licensing and the unknown fees for the testing are becoming very expensive in a market that is quickly declining for hemp, CBD (short for cannabidiol, an ingredient in cannabis derived from the hemp plant) flower and oil,” Putt said. 

“Industrial hemp is really exciting, but the biggest issue we have is assets and capital in Michigan,” she said.

Both Putt and Lord say they worry that costs associated with the higher license and sample testing fees will push an already high cost of operation even higher. 

And Crabill said, “The industry needs to get engaged with hemp. The whole reason for these regulations is to build out the hemp industry.” 

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