Colleges and universities can now apply to participate in a new industrial hemp program that will oversee the research of the crop as a possible addition to Oklahoma’s agricultural landscape.
Lawmakers this year approved the pilot program. Individuals cannot hold a license, but they can contract with colleges and universities to produce hemp for industrial use.
Farmers in the state once grew hemp and used its fibrous product for things like cloth sacks and rope. Because of its genetic similarity to marijuana, however, hemp faced legal barriers to production as cannabis was made illegal in the early 20th century. It can also be used for paper products, construction, livestock bedding, molded plastic or CBD oil, a product that has shown some success treating medical conditions.
Hemp is nonintoxicating and has little to no value as a recreational drug. The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture will only accept the use of hemp seeds containing less than three-tenths of a percent of THC, the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana.
Law enforcement has long believed that hemp farming could be used as a cover for marijuana cultivation, something hemp proponents dispute.
Both hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the plant cannabis sativa. It can be difficult to discern the difference between hemp and marijuana, except through testing the THC level of a plant, Agriculture Secretary Jim Reese told The Oklahoman last year.
Institutions that want to participate in the pilot program are encouraged to submit their application to the department at least 30 days before planting or cultivating an industrial hemp crop. The window for getting a license in place before the 2018 planting season is closing, and the department said those interested should apply within the next two weeks.
The license fee is $500 for each site, along with an inspection fee of $5 per acre or 33-cents per square foot for greenhouses.
The author of legislation that created the pilot program, state Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, said he’s heard that Langston and Cameron Universities have expressed interest in participating.
“I’ve been hearing from farmers all across this state that are excited to get going,” said Dollens. “One has told me he’ll put me on his tractor for the first cultivation of his hemp harvest.”
Ray Huhnke, director of the Bio-based Products and Energy Center at Oklahoma State University, said OSU will take a few months to analyze and research the program before committing.
“Being a brand-new crop for Oklahoma, we need to identify what are the key issues that we could address if we have the appropriate resources,” Huhnke said, noting that there would be decisions about funding, personnel and whether the results gleaned from the program could be beneficial.
Huhnke said it’s always interesting when there’s a new crop that could provide economic development or value to rural communities, and he’s especially interested in hemp’s capability as a bioenergy source.