NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE. 15 May, 2015 — The hemp seeds should have gone in the ground three weeks ago, but just as farmer threw up their hands, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) finally approved Tennessee’s application to import certified industrial hemp seeds from Canada for research purposes. The seeds can be planted up until the first week of June. After that, land set aside for hemp would have to be turned over to cattle or other crops.
Last week U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander ( R-Tenn.) welcomed the news that the DEA will no longer stand in the way of a potentially lucrative industry for Tennessee’s agriculture sector – tobacco has been foundering for years and troubled farmers are eying hemp as an appealing substitute. Those in the pilot program will help find out which strains of hemp will grow best in Tennessee conditions, enabling the Department of Agriculture to decide whether an industry is viable.
For the 50 farmers who’ve signed up for the state’s pilot program, the wait for seeds has been nerve-racking. It’s a year since Tennessee passed legislation to legalize industrial hemp and during that time the DEA seized industrial hemp seeds destined for legal research in both Kentucky and Colorado, only releasing them after legal action by Kentucky. DEA bureaucrats – evidently unfamiliar with the whole idea that growing crops requires land – swooned over the acreage Tennessee proposes to plant. The DEA claimed 2,000 acres spread among 53 farmers went beyond the scope and spirit of agricultural pilot research, as mandated by the Farm Bill. That’s not even 40 acres apiece – and they don’t get a mule – just sayin’.
Colleen Sauvé, president of Tennessee Hemp Industries Association, said that federal agricultural pilot projects for other crops used far more land, without anyone objecting. It was an option for the state to go forward with hemp cultivation, and simply bypass the DEA. After all, the 2014 federal spending bill prohibits the DEA and other federal agencies from go after state-legal programs involving hemp and medical cannabis.
However state officials and agricultural organizations were reluctant to get on the wrong side of the agency. “In a lot of people’s minds they do have the power to inflict injury on farmers by seizing property,” Sauvé said, discussing the DEA’s role. “That is why the state is being so transparent and cooperating.”
The Hemp Industry Association says about $500 million worth of hemp oil and other raw material is imported every year. This is revenue lost to American farmers, who could produce hemp domestically, creating rural jobs and saving small family farms. Both Kentucky and Tennessee have fought to educate the public on the potential of industrial hemp and on the wrongheadedness of classifying a nonpsychoactive cannabis plant as a Schedule I narcotic.
The 2015 federal Industrial Hemp Farming Act introduced several months ago, if passed, will remove industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it as a cash crop nationwide. By getting their seed cultivar research rolling now, Tennessee farmers could have the jump on other states still tangled in red tape.
The seed has now been ordered and officials are counting the days.