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With Oklahoma’s Hemp Production ‘Way Down,’ Lawmakers Consider Benefits Of Expansion



“Unfortunately our numbers have gone way down… In 2018, everybody wanted to grow hemp.”

By Merrilee Gasser, The Center Square

Oklahoma legislators are studying whether industrial hemp production would benefit rural development in the state.

Growing hemp became legal in Oklahoma after Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act’s classification of marijuana and declassified hemp as a Schedule I narcotic.

While there was a lot of initial interest in 2018, Oklahoma has seen a decline in interest from potential growers since then, according to Kenny Naylor, the director of Consumer Affairs for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.

“Unfortunately our numbers have gone way down,” Naylor told the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee Monday. “In 2018, everybody wanted to grow hemp.”

As of this year, Oklahoma has 21 licensed hemp growers and 22 licensed hemp processors.

Aside from a saturation of the CBD market and limited processing ability, which have both cooled the interest in growing hemp, according to Naylor, other factors were a matter of bad timing.

“I think COVID-19 hit right at the wrong time and shut everything down, and that definitely caused problems,” said Naylor. “And then for Oklahoma specifically, people switched to marijuana.”

It was initially cheaper to get licensed to grow medical marijuana, though Naylor said he doesn’t believe that is the case anymore.

Someone who wants to grow hemp in Oklahoma must pay a $500 fee when filling out their application, along with $5 an acre for outside growth and 33 cents a square foot for indoor growth. Applicants also pay a fee of $1,000 to $5,000 to process the license. The amount an applicant pays is based on their estimated annual sales, according to Naylor.

“We use this to basically maintain our program and run it here in the state,” Naylor said of the funds.

Sen. Roland Pederson (R-Oklahoma City), one of the senators who requested the study, said hemp looked like a potential alternative crop that could be easily grown in Oklahoma due to the state’s climate.

“At one time in Oklahoma there was a lot of hemp produced. Even across the nation there was a lot of hemp produced,” said Pederson. “And somehow with its conflicting characteristics with marijuana it was outlawed and it was done away with until the Farm Bill of 2018 came about, and that allowed the growth again of hemp. I think it’s got a great future.”

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture has also been projecting the pendulum to swing back toward hemp.

“We anticipate or at least are beginning to see some things that may look like a switch from medical marijuana back to hemp growing, one of those being cost,” said Naylor.

Sen. Jerry Alvord (R-Oklahoma City) asked where the demand for hemp would come from.

“I’m struggling to understand what void hemp is filling in today’s, especially agricultural product,” said Alvord. “What are we missing that hemp is going to replace?”

Naylor said hemp can serve as a renewable source for plastic, which could help produce more renewable products.

“It’s very durable fiber as well. That’s one of the reasons why I think they liked using it during World War II,” Naylor said.

This story was first published by The Center Square

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Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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