Randy Tucker and Jackie Borchardt Cincinnati Enquirer
Published 2:32 PM EDT Jul 30, 2019
“A big relief.”
That’s how Dave Arend described the new law effectively ending CBD prohibition in Ohio, which had led to some restless nights for the owner of Your CBD Store in Anderson Township.
Arend opened the store July 1, fully aware that the sale of cannabidiol in Ohio was still illegal outside state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. The hemp-derived CBD products that Arend sells contain only trace amounts of THC, the substance in cannabis plants that gets you high.
Just six months earlier, state and local officials had cracked down on retailers selling CBD products, forcing them to remove, or “embargo,’’ the products from store shelves.
But that changed Tuesday.
Gov. Mike DeWine signed Ohio’s hemp legalization bill, Senate Bill 57, into law on Tuesday at the Ohio State Fair.
The law takes effect immediately, freeing all embargoes on CBD inventory and moving hemp-derived cannabidiol off Ohio’s controlled substances list. It also means Ohio State University and other colleges can grow the state’s first hemp this summer.
Arend expects a rush of new customers as a result of the new state law.
“I think this removes the stigma that what we sell is medical marijuana,’’ Arend said. “It’s not, and we definitely anticipate a lot more customers who want the benefit of CBD without the high of medical marijuana.’’
What the law does
The law immediately allows hemp-derived CBD to flow into the state, but it will be a while before hemp can be commercially grown or processed in the Buckeye State.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to issue federal rules for hemp cultivation and processing in the coming weeks. In addition to CBD from hemp flowers, the plant is also harvested for its fiber and seed.
Ohio agriculture officials have six months to draft Ohio’s rules and regulations, which will then be submitted to the feds for approval. The goal: Have everything in place so farmers can get seeds in the ground next spring.
The department plans to ask for $12 million next month to set up the program, which includes buying equipment to test plants and hemp products. Until state testing and labeling rules are approved, agency officials will check products for unauthorized health claims and conditions that don’t meet food safety guidelines.
Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda said the agency does not plan to limit the number of licenses issued to cultivate or process hemp.
Pelanda said agriculture staff members have spent the last year studying hemp programs in other states and they will be able to enact rules and regulations within the six-month time frame allotted by law.
Pelanda said the agency plans to craft regulations to ensure farmers plant seeds that are certified to be low in THC – hemp is defined as cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC.
“We want to make sure that Ohio has the very best hemp program in the nation,” Pelanda told The Enquirer.
Ohio is the 46th state to allow hemp farming.
A big part of Ohio’s program will be research, which will begin right away. Ohio State University plans to buy about 2,000 hemp plants in the next week. Gary Pierzynski, associate dean for research and graduate programs at OSU’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said it’s too late to plant with the goal of harvesting.
But Pierzynski hopes this first crop at four locations will position them for good research on growing methods, plant diseases, pests and more next year.
Industry analysts predict the U.S. hemp market will grow from about $4.6 billion to more than $26 billion by 2023. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation has said hemp has the potential to be Ohio’s No. 3 crop behind corn and soybeans.
Let the lobbying begin
The bill leaves the details of Ohio’s hemp program – like who can grow it and how much licenses will cost – to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Those rules will be shaped by experts, lobbyists and public comment periods.
Hours after Senate Bill 57 passed, a new hemp industry lobbying group was announced: the Ohio Hemp Industry Alliance. Backing the group: Ian James and Jimmy Gould, who led the unsuccessful 2015 effort to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio. Since Issue 3 failed, James and Gould have invested in hemp, in addition to obtaining licenses for medical marijuana businesses here.
Statehouse lobbyist Neil Clark, who has been tapped to lead the organization, said the association will serve businesses who are involved at several levels of the industry and who have “big ideas.” It will also promote pro-hemp politicians through a political action committee.
“Our goal is to make sure those restrictions aren’t prohibitive,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of farmland in Ohio and there has to be opportunities for everyone.”
The group joins others that pushed the bill along including the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, which largely represents CBD businesses, and the Ohio Hemp Association, comprised of Ohio businesses and entrepreneurs that want to grow hemp or manufacture hemp products.
Local retailers pleased
Queen City Hemp has been gearing up to put its CBD Seltzer water back on the shelves at local retailers, including Hemptations and Clifton Natural Foods.
A large part of the Cincinnati-based manufacturer’s inventory of CBD-infused seltzer water was confiscated from those retailers and destroyed by the local health department during their crackdown in February, according to president and co-founder Robert Ryan.
But despite the lost inventory and cost to re-supply vendors, Ryan said he’s excited about the future of the business.
“It did hurt us financially,’’ Ryan said. “But we feel that having a law in Ohio is more important. And if it took getting embargoed for that to happen, then that’s what it took.’’
A number of national chain stores are already selling CBD products across the country.
Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery retailer, announced in June it would sell hemp-derived CBD creams, balms and other topical products in nearly 1,000 stores in 17 states – but not its home state of Ohio.
That will change with the new law, but a Kroger spokeswoman said it was too early to provide details.
More: Could industrial hemp come to Ohio next year?
More: Ohio hemp legalization bill draws criticism from farmers and hemp advocates
More: Ohio lawmakers pass CBD, hemp legalization