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Maine Department of Agriculture now accepting industrial hemp applications, but legal hurdles remain

Industrial hemp may be coming soon to a field near you.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry is now accepting applications to grow outdoor industrial hemp for the 2017 growing season, according to a release emailed by the Department yesterday. However, the limited availability of certified hemp seeds may complicate matters for would-be growers.

The Application Process

Industrial hemp license applications are available on the Department of Agriculture website, and must be accepted by April 1, 2017, along with the appropriate fees, which are as follows:

  • $100 application fee – submitted with the application.

  • $500 license fee – due after approval of the application and must be submitted with the signed licensing agreement.

  • $50/acre fee – due after approval of the application and must be submitted with the signed licensing agreement.

Unfortunately, becoming an industrial hemp grower in Maine isn’t as simple as submitting a valid application. The Department’s rules require growers to use hemp seeds from a “certified” source. This means seeds that (1) are certified by the Association of Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA), and (2) are from plants tested to contain no more than 0.3% THC.

As the Department acknowledges on its website, AOSCA-certified seeds are virtually impossible to obtain, and typically require a DEA permit to import. Such a DEA permit would be impossible for a Maine grower or the Department to obtain, as there are currently no hemp research programs in the state that would qualify. Thus, it’s practically impossible for a grower to obtain seeds from a certified source.

The Department offers a workaround

Fortunately for would-be growers, the Department’s website explains that, at least for the upcoming growing season, the standards for seed certification may be “somewhat flexible.” This means that in lieu of an AOSCA certification, the Department may accept other proof that the seeds are from hemp plants containing no more than 0.3% THC. This proof may take the form of a letter, written verification, or other document(s) that, at minimum, include:

  • Third party THC testing results for the industrial hemp plants that produced the seeds

  • The results must be for the hemp variety or varieties on the application, and ideally should be for the specific seed lot to be planted

  • THC testing results and the date of the test(s)

  • The name of the seed supplier and origin of the seeds.

The Department does note that as certified seeds become more readily available, the Department will revise its policies to require proof of certification. In the meantime, however, it appears applicants can circumvent the certified seeds requirement by providing documentation of valid THC testing for their hemp seeds.

As with medical marijuana, industrial hemp remains federally illegal

While Maine now permits cultivation of industrial hemp, cannabis growers (including growers of industrial hemp, a strain of cannabis with no more than 0.3% THC) should be aware that growing, possessing, or transferring cannabis is still prohibited by the federal Controlled Substances Act. Federal law does not differentiate between industrial hemp and other forms of cannabis, and without a DEA permit, a Maine hemp grower will be in violation of federal law. Until significant federal policy changes are made, hemp, like medical marijuana, remains a somewhat risky industry.

A Maine Cannabis Law Firm

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