LINCOLN — Federal officials approved Nebraska’s hemp plan Tuesday, opening the door for would-be growers, processors and brokers to get licensed.
Nebraska Agriculture Director Steve Wellman said the agency will start taking license applications Monday for the 2020 growing year.
“Now that NDA has an approved state hemp plan in place, we can begin issuing licenses for the commercial cultivation, processing, handling and brokering of industrial hemp in Nebraska,” he said.
According to the plan, officials estimate the state will issue 270 licenses to hemp growers, 30 to processors and handlers and 15 to brokers.
The process was authorized by a law passed last year, which legalized industrial hemp and its products in the state, as allowed under the 2018 federal farm bill.
The law provides for the licensing and regulation of the new crop and creates the Nebraska Hemp Commission to promote hemp and its products.
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State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, who introduced last year’s hemp bill, said the federal approval was “a step in the right direction of growing this industry.”
This year, he said, the Legislature needs to work out some kinks with the state law. He has a proposal that would clarify the legal status of CBD, or cannabidiol, products and regulate smokeable hemp. A second bill would make largely technical changes sought by the State Agriculture Department.
Last year, the agency chose 10 entities at random from among 176 applicants to be allowed to legally plant, harvest and process hemp this year. Interested parties had only a few days to put a plan together and apply.
The practical cousin of marijuana, hemp is defined as strains of the cannabis plant that are less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical with higher concentrations in other cannabis strains that produces intoxicating effects.
Growing, handling or processing hemp without a signed license agreement from the state remains illegal in Nebraska.
The only exception is for heirloom cannabis plants or seeds, meaning the kinds of cannabis native to Nebraska that are found growing wild, as long as they are not grown for commercial purposes.
It appears that growers and regulators still have a lot of learn about this budding crop. “It’s actually quite challenging to grow,” said Bruce Wiles, who operates one of the 10 farms licensed to grow hemp in Nebraska this year.
Proving that a plant is marijuana and not hemp requires testing that until this week was unavailable in Nebraska. Some counties have suspended prosecution of cases involving possession of small amounts marijuana because of the expense of obtaining out-of-state tests.
Legislative Bill 657, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, would legalize industrial hemp and its products, including cannabidiol, or CBD, products in the state. It's not clear where the Gov. Pete Ricketts will come down on the bill.
Legislative Bill 853 would allow financial institutions to take action when they see signs that a vulnerable or older customer may be the target of financial exploitation. Financial institutions could put a 30-day hold on certain transactions and could notify someone close to the customer.
Though Iowa-made medical cannabis products are legal in Iowa for specific conditions, Nebraskans can't cross the Missouri to purchase products as they can to play slot machines or bet on a football game at an Iowa casino.
The Nebraska Legislature on Wednesday advanced Legislative Bill 541, which would encourage doctors to ask new patients between the ages of 18 and 45 whether they are registered on the national bone marrow registry. Doctors would be encouraged to provide patients who are not in the registry with information about getting on it.
Omaha State Sen. Tony Vargas said his proposal to ban housing discrimination based on a person's lawful source of income could open up housing options for people so they could live closer to jobs, closer to transportation, and in areas with better schools and safer housing. Landlords spoke against the bill.