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With OK from feds, Minnesota's hemp industry takes step forward

There are currently 511 Minnesotans growing or processing hemp.

It looks like hemp may be here to stay in Minnesota. 

The state's hemp program, which was allowed to launch thanks to relaxed federal regulations on cannabis, has been cleared for takeoff.

This past week, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) announced the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) approval of its hemp production plan, which began — and continues — as a pilot program and now involves thousands of acres in Minnesota.

“We thank USDA for their work on this new federal hemp program, and we are grateful they have approved Minnesota’s plan," said MDA Commissioner Thom Petersen in a statement. "While this is a major step forward, there are still concerns over some the regulations imposed on states and tribal governments, such as testing requirements."

He added that he looks forward to "continuing our dialog with USDA so we can ensure Minnesota’s hemp growers and processors are successful in this fledging industry.”

As noted in an MDA release, this was first made possible by a 2014 federal farm bill that allowed for pilot programs (in other words, test drives) to "study the growth, cultivation, and marketing of hemp," marking the first time the plant was legally allowed to be grown in the U.S. in decades.

The plant — a type of cannabis that is distinct from marijuana, partly in that it can't get you high — was further deregulated by 2018 legislation that removed it from the Controlled Substances Act, a measure that recognized it as an agricultural crop.

Minnesota's own pilot program began with just six growers in 2016, and has since expanded to 511 people who "have grower and/or processor licenses," the release says. 

Additionally, there are 8,605 acres and 4.66 million indoor square feet of growing space dedicated to hemp under the MDA program.

The agency makes clear that Minnesota will continue to operate under this pilot program.

Industrial hemp has many uses, including food, rope, clothing, paper and housing materials, Medium notes. 

According to Hemp Basics, one acre of hemp produces as much fiber as two to three acres of cotton, while the fiber from hemp is "stronger and softer than cotton, lasts twice as long as cotton, and will not mildew."

The plant was made all but illegal for cultivation in the U.S. by the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which you can read about right here.  

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