Maine hemp producers caught between different state, federal rules

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The USDA signed off on an extension of Maine’s fledgling hemp program beyond late October, but state agriculture specialists are at a loss as to how the sector can move forward.

Hemp producers across Maine must adhere to new federal guidelines, which state horticulturalist Gary Fish stresses are written differently from current state rules. Fish said that could be problematic for those who harvest after Oct. 31, the original sunset date for the industry.

Under one new federal rule, a hemp strain’s THC level could determine whether it remains legal.

Fish said everyone in the business will be in for quite a learning experience.

“And if there are situations where crops are not necessarily in full compliance, we're going to try and find ways to mitigate those crops so they can still be used and not have to destroy those crops,” he told Maine Public Radio.

The station reported that cannabidiol and other terpenes for the CBD market are unlikely to pass muster under the USDA guidelines when November begins.

It could take up to a year before the state’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry sets the official rules in place.

The rules come just as Maine hemp farmers are reeling from a slump that followed brimming optimism for a new yet popular market.

“Last year it looked like crops might be profitable but as the number of growers grew across the country the price dropped precipitously, so a lot of growers ended up with a lot of hemp they couldn’t sell or had to sell for way lower prices than expecting,” Fish told WCSH.

MPR reported that Mainers grew 3200 acres of hemp. So far this year, 11 percent of the 2019 acreage has been harvested.

Maine this year issued about half as many licenses as last year, the station reported.

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