AUGUSTA, Maine — A new law allowing hemp cultivation for commercial uses in Maine is in effect now that the Legislature has overridden a veto by Gov. Paul LePage.
“I am absolutely thrilled that this is now law,” said Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, who sponsored LD 4 to legalize hemp cultivation for industrial uses.
“This was overwhelmingly overridden,” she said Monday of the veto. “It got big support in both the House and the Senate. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle really showed their support for it.”
LePage’s veto was overridden in the House on May 12 by a vote of 135 in favor, 6 opposed and 10 members absent. The Senate also voted to override the veto on June 16, by a vote of 28 in favor and 6 opposed. The emergency legislation will go into effect immediately, Sanderson said Monday, so that growers can get their seeds into the ground as early into summer as possible.
The law allows growers to purchase hemp seeds from any certified seed source, rather than only approved Canadian producers, as originally introduced in the first version of the bill.
Farmers, organic growers, agricultural researchers and community members threw their support behind the bill when it was first introduced by Sanderson. The representative said the measure would open new opportunities for farmers and would provide local sourcing for many products made from hemp.
Hemp fibers can be used in making textiles, paper, insulation, building materials and composites for auto bodies.
At the same time, hemp can be controversial because hemp fibers and marijuana come from the same family of plants, which is why hemp still is considered a drug under federal law. Supporters pointed out, though, that the variety of Cannabis sativa used for industrial hemp contains far less of the chemical ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is responsible for the high that marijuana users feel.
Three states — Colorado, Kentucky and Vermont — have legalized industrial hemp and have research crops planted, according to Vote Hemp, an organization seeking the full normalization of and a free market for industrial hemp in the United States.
During a public hearing on the bill in the State House on Feb. 10 this year, none of the 10 people who testified spoke against the measure.
Jon Olson of the Maine Farm Bureau testified that the cultivation of industrial hemp was discussed at an Aroostook County Farm Bureau meeting, and farmers felt that it could be another “value added” crop they could grow and add to their rotation.
Though she testified neither for nor against the bill, Ann Gibbs, acting director of the animal and plant health division for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, noted that hemp is classified as a “drug” under the Federal Controlled Substance Act. That means any production is strictly controlled and hemp cannot be grown legally without a permit from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Currently, the DEA has issued permits only to the state Department of Agriculture or to universities for research.
She added that DEA restrictions may make it difficult for Maine producers to import certified hemp seed for commercial use, which may hinder planting efforts.
The law calls for licensing fees that should be “reasonable and necessary to cover the costs of the department” and would be set at the discretion of the Maine Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
Heather Spalding, deputy director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, who testified in support of the bill, said Monday that she had not yet heard of any growers who planned to plant hemp seed. She said she thought they were waiting to read and study the new law before deciding on a growing plan.