The story of industrial hemp in North Dakota started 20 years ago during the 1999 state legislative session. It was during this session that the first bill relating to the licensing and growing of hemp was submitted by District 10 Representative Dave Monson and passed by the North Dakota legislative body.
By Melissa Anderson
Monson explained that his push for the growing of industrial hemp started when a terrible outbreak of fusarium head blight or “scab” occurred after years of very wet weather in Cavalier County. The Canadian government had legalized industrial hemp only a few years prior with promises of the new crop giving very large profits and lots of jobs for the area.
“As a bonus it would help break the disease cycle we were in as it was not affected by scab. I thought this would be a great crop for us as we were close to Canada,” Monson shared.
At the passage of the North Dakota legislation in 1999, in order to grow industrial hemp, a producer had to be licensed by both the State of North Dakota and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Even with the state law, the restrictions at the federal level still made the crop illegal to grow due to its classification as a controlled substance.
“I never really lost hope or thought of giving up, but it was getting very frustrating,” Monson said.
Flash forward to the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill, and the budding industry of hemp was given the go-ahead to begin researching the plant as a crop for American producers. The NDSU Langdon Research Extension Center (LREC) was the only research facility in the state to be given the clearance to grow the crop.
“Thanks to that farm bill in 2014, pilot programs and research was allowed to be done with quite a few restrictions, but we still did it. We have been doing research since 2015,” LREC Director Randy Mehlhoff said.
With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, commercial hemp production is now allowed. NDSU has expanded its research to six other research centers, Carrington and Dickinson. The work conducted at these stations is ”all in an attempt to provide producers who are interested in this crop with production practices”.
“Instead of you making the mistakes, we make the mistakes here, and our whole goal here is to teach [producers] how to grow hemp as profitably as possible,” Mehlhoff said.
Now that the restrictions have eased with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill and opened the field to commercial production, the state legislature quickly got to work on hemp production licensing. During the 2019 ND legislative session, Monson and fellow legislators rewrote the hemp laws to coincide with the 2018 Farm Bill.
“Unfortunately, the Federal administrative rules were not written in time for the farmers in ND to grow hemp as easily at it should have gone this spring,” Monson said.
At the federal level, North Dakota Senator John Hoeven co-sponsored legislation and supported its legalization as the 2018 Farm Bill advanced through the Senate Agriculture Committee and the conference committee, both of which Hoeven serves on.
“Industrial hemp has potential to help North Dakota farmers diversify their operations and contribute to their bottom line. Since the farm bill was signed into law, we’ve been working with the USDA and Secretary Perdue to ensure the bill is implemented in a way that best serves farmers. At a recent Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, USDA reaffirmed its commitment to issue regulations by this fall in time for the 2020 growing year,” Hoeven said.
The work put in at the state level has North Dakota far ahead of the federal government on the process of growing industrial hemp in the United States. Monson credits this as more than just a “hurry up and wait” as the laws were in place for many years, with North Dakota just “waiting for the federal government to do what they finally accomplished last year”.
“Our North Dakota Ag Commissioner and his staff have worked out everything for this year and should have everything running more smoothly for the 2020 crop year,” Monson added.
The North Dakota Department of Agriculture’s John Mortenson is heading the hemp program and has been attending informational meetings across the state. Most recently he was at the LREC Hemp Day held on July 23 going over the process of licensing to grow industrial hemp commercially in the state.
“The 2018 Farm Bill did not allow for growing without a license. You still need to be licensed to grow hemp. It did not allow for processing without a license. You still need to be licensed to process,” Mortenson said.
Mortenson added that the 2018 Farm Bill also did not remove the requirement for potential growers to have a background check conducted on them and that the fields where the crop is grown are still subject to testing by the state to check the THC levels. Currently, the North Dakota Department of Ag is operating under the 2014 Farm Bill in regards to the hemp section. Once the USDA has the federal regulations in place, North Dakota will submit their plan for regulating the growing of industrial hemp in the state.
“We are ready to go when the USDA is ready to go,” Mortenson said.
North Dakota Department of Ag regulations and licensing for growing hemp as per the law passed in spring 2019 are pretty straightforward. In order to grow industrial hemp in North Dakota, a producer must submit themselves to a background check and supply the locations of fields. The department does require a licensing fee of $41.25. The cost to license the land where hemp will be grown starts at $25 for a single acre with the maximum fee set at $350 for those planting over 100 acres.
“We foresee our program moving from where it’s been- more research-based to more of a licensing and testing-base type program,” Mortenson said.
The newly reconstructed hemp law also puts in place what constitutes violations in regards to growing hemp and the grounds the commissioner can use for denial of licensing. Grounds for violation include failing to provide the legal description of the land where the producer is growing hemp, failing to obtain a license, and producing hemp with a THC concentration of more than 0.03 percent mandated by federal and state law. Producers found to have violated these conditions will be subject to having the hemp crop either confiscated or destroyed at their cost. The state law also allows for the commissioner to deny licensing due to repeated violations of the hemp chapter or falsifying information on the licensing application. Failure to pass the background check or being convicted of a felony since the most recent criminal history background check are also grounds for denial.
“Violations that are deemed intentional will actually get forwarded to the attorney general or chief law enforcement officer of the state,” Mortenson said .
The department is also developing an online licensing and application process. This will allow producers to utilize an online mapping tool and reduce the burden of paperwork.
“Producers can apply for their license, map their field, send it to us and hopefully expedite the process,” Mortenson shared.
The state plan is ready to be submitted to the USDA, and once the plan is approved the state will be ready to grow hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill. The hope is that the USDA has their regulations in order so the first hemp crop can be planted in 2020. Right now, in the state of North Dakota, there are 67 licensed producers and over 4,000 acres have been registered to grow hemp.
Information regarding the North Dakota Century Code Chapter 4.1-18.1 on hemp as well as other laws, rules, and helpful information regarding the growing of hemp in North Dakota can be found at: www.nd.gov/ndda/plant-industries/hemp.