Ohio Lawmakers Set to Legalize Hemp:  A briefing on SB 57 by Neil Clark, Grant Street Consultants

You’d have to be living under a rock not to hear or read about the purported miraculous properties of CBD oil these days.  It’s used to treat everything from anxiety to chronic pain. But, selling and using it in Ohio is illegal – and that is what SB 57 seeks to change by creating an industrial hemp program in Ohio.

What is CBD?  The real name is cannabidiol and it is derived from an ancient plant called Hemp.  I bet you didn’t know that the first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on paper made from hemp and the first American flags were made from the plant.  In fact, hemp is used to produce over 25,000 products – and CBD oil is just one.

It must be said that hemp is NOT marijuana.  While industrial hemp and marijuana both derive from the same plant, they possess many different properties – the main difference being that industrial hemp contains only trace amounts of THC (the intoxicating chemical in marijuana), so it absolutely does NOT produce the “high” or psychoactive effects people may experience on marijuana.

Hemp was a leading cash crop in the United States until the 20th century – when confusion over the intoxicating properties of certain strains of cannabis led to its prohibition a few decades later. And today, Ohio finds itself with a prohibited, harmless, but very useful plant that farmers are not allowed to grow here.

But with the recent passing of the 2018 Federal Farm Bill, industrial hemp was removed from the list of scheduled substances banned by the federal government and hemp containing no more than 0.3% of THC can now be grown once again as a commodity crop. This spurred an active lobbying effort here in Ohio as well as around the country.

SB 57 follows the Federal law and clarifies that Ohio law remove hemp and hemp-derived products like CBD from Ohio’s controlled substances list.  The bill distinguishes hemp from marijuana the same as the federal did and makes it legal to sell hemp and its products.

Ohio Farmers and retailers, excited about the opportunity, lobbied in support of SB 57 as some predict hemp could become the third most important crop in the state and retailers want to cash in on the popularity of the CBD market.  Hemp can grow nearly anywhere in most climates.  It requires little to no pesticides and pulls pollutants such as lead and phosphorous out of the soil.  The fiber can be used in twine, caulking, auto bodies, building materials, concrete, plastics, textiles, paper, and household goods.  As a paper product, one acre of hemp can produce as much as 4-10 acres of trees over a 20-year cycle, while only taking 4 months to mature, whereas trees can take decades.

With this legislation, the Ohio industrial hemp program will be under the oversight of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, who will issue cultivator licenses only after a background check to ensure license holders have not been convicted of a felony drug offense in the last ten years.

Senate Bill 57 passed the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee on Tuesday and could get a full floor vote in the House this week. The House’s changes to the bill would then need approval from the Senate.  The bill would take effect immediately once Gov. Mike DeWine signs it, allowing stores to immediately sell hemp-derived CBD products.

-Grant Street Consultants is Ohio’s Premier Lobbying Firm-