batatun via shutterstock
Field of hemp (batatun via shutterstock)

HARTFORD, CT —Trying to take advantage of growing season, the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) is now accepting applications for hemp manufacturing licenses.

The General Assembly recently passed a law, that Gov. Ned Lamont quickly signed in May, that allows the state to begin a hemp pilot program with the Department of Agriculture regulating growers and processors, and DCP regulating manufacturers of hemp products.

If someone plans to manufacture hemp products consumed in any way by people (food products, lotions, oils, etc.) through a process beyond chopping or grinding, such as heating or distillation, they need to be licensed with DCP. If anyone is simply chopping or grinding hemp, they do not require a license with DCP. Retailers of hemp products who are not manufacturing do not require a license.

“I am pleased that we have gotten this program up and running so quickly after the bill was signed,” Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull said.

Lamont signed the bill on May 8.

“I want to thank the Department of Agriculture and our legislators for their support in making the start of this program a success,” Seagull said. “I look forward to this program growing as an important part of the state’s economy, and encourage those with questions about hemp manufacturing to reach out to us.”

More than 200 of the state’s 6,000 farmers have expressed an interest in jumping in on the hemp growing business. It’s unclear how many companies will seek to manufacture hemp products.

During public hearings, legislators were urged to jump on board – quickly – to allow Connecticut farmers, especially the next generation of farmers, to become part of the growing list of states that have embraced cultivation of hemp as a way to revitalize the farming industry.

Currently, only Colorado, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont allow farmers to grow hemp under state supervision.

Hemp was grouped with marijuana and was declared a Schedule 1 drug in 1970. That, according to advocates of hemp, increased misconception of the plant, which comes from the same family of plant as marijuana, but does not include enough THC to get a person “high.”

“Connecticut is sitting on top of a huge goldmine,” John Roe, a retired farmer from Canada who lives in Stonington said during the public hearing. He told the Environment Committee that Connecticut has the “right soil conditions, right climate conditions for hemp cultivation.

“Hemp will thrive” in Connecticut, Roe said.

The 2018 federal Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp and allows states to submit a plan and apply for primary regulatory authority over the production of hemp in their state.

The bill passed calls on the state agriculture department to submit regulations to the federal government for licensing, growing and processing hemp.

Lamont’s budget included three new positions in the Department of Agriculture and $136,000 in funding to develop and regulate a hemp program. In addition, one lab technician position is provided to the Agricultural Experiment Station to conduct testing of the hemp being grown to ensure compliance of mandated restrictions on the product.

During the public hearings, Bryan Hurlburt, who was then the executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, urged fast action because “there is an opportunity for farmers to take advantage of this crop this growing season.”

Hurlburt is now the Connecticut Agriculture commissioner.

“For a farmer to plant hemp in the field, there are a number of steps that need to be taken in advance to meet that deadline, including the USDA waiver, seed procurement, regulation development, financing, and field preparation,” Hurlburt said.

Many legislators asked those testifying to explain, in layman’s language, the difference between hemp and marijuana.

Hurlburt explained: “Industrial hemp is not marijuana, although both are members of the cannabis plant family. Industrial hemp is differentiated by the low concentration of THC, set by federal statute at maximum of 0.3 percent THC of the dried weight of the plant, marijuana has a THC level of 5 – 25 percent. Industrial hemp is generally used for fiber and CBD extraction, but has over 25,000 different uses.

Hurlburt said CFBA believes hemp as a lifeline for the agricultural economy, providing a much-needed cash crop to a market that is strapped for cash and markets.

He said research show that an acre of hemp could generate the following yields: 500 lbs to 1500 lbs of dried flowers; prices between $30 – $100/lb; estimated revenues between $37,500 – $150,000 per acre.

“Having a high value crop would keep farmers on the land, be an incentive for farmers to put more land into production, attract new farmers to the industry, stabilize farm incomes, add business opportunities for agricultural support businesses, employ more people, support the opportunity for value-added production, and generate more revenue for the state,” Hurlburt said.

Also encouraging the committee to move quickly on legislation was Troy Sprang, vice president at J.E. Shepard Companies, a continually operating farming company in Connecticut for over 126 years.

“There are jobs at stake and significant economic development growth opportunities in the manufacturing and production area of hemp for Connecticut businesses, if we move quickly,” Sprang said.

Voluntown First Selectwoman Tracey Hanson, again during public hearing testimony, said hemp could be throwing farmers a badly needed lifeline.

“Right now, some of the largest farms in town are struggling dairy farms,” Hanson said. “Many farmers are aging and are lacking a younger generation to take over current farm businesses.”

Hanson said passing a hemp bill “will be a key to revitalizing the farming industry in Voluntown and in other Connecticut farm towns.”