University of Maryland Extension

Proposed Regulations for Industrial Hemp Cultivation Available for Public Comment, But Hemp Production Remains Illegal

Author: 
Paul Goeringer, Nicole Cook, and Andrew Ristvey
Industrial hemp field day with University of Kentucky

This post is not legal advice.

        In 2016, the Maryland General Assembly first passed legislation allowing for the development of an Industrial Hemp Pilot Program in the state.  That program was recently updated this year by House Bill (HB) 698 to allow farmers contracting with the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) or Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) in Maryland to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. Production of hemp under the program must further either agricultural or academic research. HB 698 became effective on July 1.  MDA has published proposed regulations to implement this pilot program. You are welcome to comment on these proposed regulations and can follow this page to see updates on the latest information during this process.  Until the final regulations are published, any grower attempting to produce industrial hemp in Maryland is still producing it illegally and faces potential criminal penalties.

Key Terms in HB 698

        Growers considering participating in a research program with an IHE will need to understand some terms before entering the program.  The new legislation defines “industrial hemp” to be the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta–9–tetrahydrocannabinol concentration not exceeding 0.3% on a dry weight basis.  An “institution of higher education” or a university is defined in the federal Higher Education Act of 1965.  Under this federal law, the majority of universities in the state of Maryland would qualify for the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program.

Understanding the Proposed Regulations to Grow Industrial Hemp

        Before we start, it is important to note that these are proposed regulations. It will be some time before the regulations are finalized and growers can partner with IHEs to grow industrial hemp.   Under the proposed regulations, an IHE will be able to contract with individual growers to grow industrial hemp for agricultural or academic research. IHEs will only be able to contract with growers that meet these certain qualifications:

  1. At least 18 years old;

  2. Pass a criminal background test with no felony convictions in the past 10 years;

  3. Own or lease, with the approval of the owner, the property used to grow and cultivate hemp;

  4. Have the site registered and approved with MDA before contracting to grow or cultivate hemp;

  5. Grant MDA permission to enter and inspect the property to ensure compliance with the requirements of this chapter;

  6. Only grow hemp on land zoned for agricultural purposes that is at least 1,000 feet from a school or public recreation area;

  7. Post a sign on the certified site that notifies the public that the site is used in a pilot program to grow industrial hemp; and

  8. Attend an orientation session by MDA, in cooperation with the IHE, before contracting to grow or cultivate hemp that explains the requirements of regulations.

Currently, IHEs will need to develop applications for growers to use to determine if the grower meets these qualifications.

        Once the IHE has determined growers meet the qualifications, the IHE will apply to MDA for approval to grow, cultivate, harvest, process, manufacture, transport, market, or sell industrial hemp as apart of agricultural or academic research.  When applying to MDA, the IHE will need to describe the site where industrial hemp will be grown with an address and map clearly showing the site with GPS coordinates. Included with the application will need to be a diagram for the site with any buildings (such as barns or houses), structures (such as granaries, fences, etc), and improvements on the site that includes uses of each and what activities are taking place on the site.  The application will also need to identify the intended academic or agricultural research purpose. Finally, the grower or the IHE will need to pay a $250 fee to MDA.

        Once a grower is approved and participating in research with an IHE, the grower will need to verify that the plants meet the definition of industrial hemp, which means “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentration that does not exceed 0.3% on a dry weight basis.”  The proposed regulations specifically exclude from the definition of “industrial hemp” any plant regulated as medical cannabis in Maryland.

        To verify the industrial hemp plants meet the requirements, the grower will need to get independent, on-farm inspections testing from a lab that performs inspections and testing of cannabis in the state.  The testing can also be performed by on-farm inspections and verifications from the IHE. When verifications will be required will be determined by either MDA or the IHE. The grower will need to maintain all records needed to verify at the site and make them available to either MDA or the IHE.

        Any industrial hemp that exceeds 0.3% on a dry weight basis of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentration will need to be destroyed by the grower within seven days under the supervision of the IHE or MDA.

What Does This Mean for You?

        Currently, even after the publishing of the proposed regulations, industrial hemp will still be illegal to grow in Maryland.  MDA still needs to publish final regulations after taking into account the comments on the proposed regulations. Currently, you have until October 29, 2018, to submit comments on these regulations.  You can submit comments to Kevin Conroy, Assistant Secretary, Maryland Department of Agriculture, 50 Harry S Truman Parkway, Annapolis, Maryland 21401, or call (410) 841- 5870, or email to kevin.conroy@maryland.gov, or fax to (410) 841-5835.

        As MDA works to finalize the regulations, IHEs will need to develop research programs and determine the number of growers an IHE has the faculty to work within a research program.  Many growers may not realize that on-farm research will include interaction with an IHE’s faculty throughout the process, and the IHE may not have a large number of faculty solely dedicated to handling hemp research.  IHEs will also need to determine additional fees that an IHE will need to charge to cover the costs associated with conducting industrial hemp research.

        So what does this mean for you, the grower? You currently have to continue to wait before you can begin to grow industrial hemp.  Until MDA finalizes the regulations, IHEs are approved by MDA, and research programs based on the regulations are developed, any hemp produced in Maryland will be grown illegally, meaning the grower faces potential criminal penalties for growing the crop.

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