Government

Iowa's hemp program gets federal approval

People interested in growing hemp can apply for a license starting April 1, no planting allowed before April 8

This is a hemp plant, which Iowa farmers can grow this year - if they get a license and pass a background check.
This is a hemp plant, which Iowa farmers can grow this year — if they get a license and pass a background check.
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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the Iowa Hemp Act into law last year, allowing the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to develop a state plan for licensed farmers to grow up to 40 acres of industrial hemp for products including rope, paper, food and oils.

Many would-be growers are interested in cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-intoxicating compound being included in everything from lotions to energy drinks.

The state submitted its plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this year, but the agencies reached an impasse over when growers should be turned over to police when their crops have too much tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Plants with more than 0.3 percent THC — the compound that creates the “high” feeling — are considered marijuana, and it’s illegal to grow pot in Iowa.

Iowa’s program said hemp crops that test greater than 0.3 percent but not more than 2 percent would have to be destroyed, but the grower would not be subject to a negligent violation. The USDA said the safe window should be smaller, from 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent.

What’s Happened Since

The USDA approved Iowa’s plan March 20 — as long as the state follows the federal rules.

“We have to abide by the USDA’s negligent violation range,” said Robin Pruisner, state entomologist and agriculture security coordinator.

This means, anyone whose hemp crop tests over 0.5 percent THC could receive a negligent violation and be subject to a fine of $500 to $2,500.

People who want to grow hemp may apply for a license starting April 1, but it’s illegal to grow, possess, buy or sell hemp in Iowa until at least April 8 and only then if you have a license.

A license costs up to $1,150 a year to get started, and at least $1,000 to inspect and test pre-harvest crops to determine THC levels. Applicants must provide fingerprints, which will be submitted to the FBI for criminal background checks.

The state hired a company to design software for online license application, but when development was delayed, state officials decided to proceed without the software, Pruisner said.

“With staff teleworking for an unknown period of time, we decided the best, most dependable route was to go with hard copy (applications),” she said. “The applications will be available for download on our website on April 1. People can contact us before April 1, and we’ll send out the fingerprint cards.”

Ethan Vorhes, a Nashua farmer and cattle producer in northeast Iowa, said he’s excited Iowa’s program was approved.

“I do believe that there is time for most people if they get applications in quickly,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how fast turnaround time is with respect to approval.”

Vorhes would like to plant by May 1, but he first needs to get the license, make sure his farm leases are in place and order seed.

“I also question whether or not farmers and other hemp prospectors will be able to overcome the many challenges with banking, merchant services and a time crunch we are starting with,” he said.

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There is a conference call public hearing about the state’s program April 3 from 9 to 10 a.m. People may participate by calling 1-(866) 685-1580 and entering code 0009990941#. All questions about applying for a hemp license or seed permit should go to hemp@iowaagriculture.gov or (515) 725-1470.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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