Hemp program updates proposed

The Agriculture Committee heard testimony Feb. 4 on a bill that would update the Nebraska Hemp Farming Act to harmonize it with new federal regulations.

Sen. Steve Halloran
Sen. Steve Halloran

Congress legalized the cultivation and sale of hemp with the 2018 Farm Bill. States that wish to regulate hemp production first must submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval.

The Nebraska Hemp Farming Act, which the Legislature passed last year, requires the state Department of Agriculture to submit such a state plan to the USDA and to establish, operate and administer a program to license and regulate those who cultivate, process, handle or broker hemp.

Sen. Steve Halloran, sponsor of LB1152, said the bill would make the act consistent with state plan specifications in a USDA interim rule published last October and also make it easier for the state Department of Agriculture to administer the program.

He said the bill would reference the federal rule’s definition of “acceptable hemp THC level.” It also would require testing laboratories to measure the total THC in a hemp sample and to report a measurement of uncertainty along with the test results. Samples would have to be tested within 15 days of harvest.

Halloran said the bill also would define negligent and nonnegligent violations of the act and clarify that the presence of uncultivated feral hemp is not considered cultivation for purposes of the act.

“There’s been uncertainty as to the purpose of [that] provision,” he said, “and it introduces a number of difficulties for the department and law enforcement in assuring that hemp production is within lawful limits.”

Halloran said LB1152 also is meant to ensure that the department will accept all qualified applications and issue licenses to those who meet the requirements.

“We want to assure growers that there will not be an arbitrary limit to the number of licenses issued,” he said.

Additionally, the bill would require licensees to notify the department of the estimated date that hemp will be transported from a registered site. The department would notify the Nebraska State Patrol within two business days of receiving the licensee’s notification.

Steve Wellman, director of the state Department of Agriculture, testified in support of LB1152. He said the USDA has approved Nebraska’s state plan, and the department began accepting applications this week.

Wellman said the bill would ensure that the department’s enforcement responsibilities only apply to the activities of hemp cultivators, processors and brokers and that licensing provisions apply only to hemp plants, not hemp products.

He said the proposed requirement that hemp be harvested within 15 days of sampling is intended to prevent multiple requests by growers to test their plants’ THC levels during the growing season.

“Repeated requests for sampling by a number of cultivators would be a burden on the department’s staff and resources,” Wellman said.

Wellman requested that the committee remove language in the bill that would provide for a transfer of general funds to support the program for its first two years. He asked that the Legislature instead give the department spending authority to ensure that the program is self-supporting.

Jacob Bish, of Bish Enterprises and Hemp Harvest Works, provided neutral testimony on LB1152. The bill would make necessary updates to the act, Bish said, but he expressed concern about the proposed 15-day harvest window and the transportation notification requirement, which he called unnecessary.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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