SEEDS OF AN INDUSTRY: Terry Walker, Arkansas State Plant Board director, discusses new hemp regulations.
After the inaugural meeting of the Industrial Hemp Committee in late January, the regulatory system for hemp in Arkansas seemed near completion
— draft regulations were sent along to Governor Hutchinson as part of the final steps for approval of the program's bureaucracy.
But the committee's progress has hit two hurdles: questions from the governor and a visit from the U.S Drug Enforcement Agency.
Last week, Terry Walker
, Arkansas State Plant Board director, met with Hutchinson to go over the regulations, a spokeswoman for the Plant Board and the governor said.
On Monday, a representative from the DEA visited the Plant Board, a spokeswoman for the Plant Board confirmed. She said she could not discuss the specifics of that meeting. J.R. Davis, the spokesman for the governor's office, said the governor did not request the DEA visit to the Plant Board. A DEA spokesperson did not return calls by press time.
Concerns about potential delays arose after the Arkansas Hemp Association, an advocacy group for hemp growers,
reported on its Facebook page that Hutchinson had asked the Plant Board whether the drafted regulations would "interfere with the DEA regulations" and that the Plant Board had had a visit from the DEA.
"Unless Governor Hutchinson is convinced that the DEA does not have the authority to interfere with our industrial hemp research pilot program, the rules will not be signed off on and the program will not get started this year," they said in the post.
Hutchinson issued a statement confirming that he met with Walker, but said he was simply doing due diligence on a new program.
“I met with Director Walker to discuss this issue, and I was not satisfied with the level of information I received, and that is why I requested additional facts," Hutchinson said. “This is about having answers to valid questions before moving forward with any decision on hemp regulations.”
Davis declined to provide specifics, saying the governor "doesn’t go into detail on conversations with his agency directors."
Nicholas Dial, of the Hemp Association, said he learned about the meeting, and potential delay, because Walker then forwarded the questions from Hutchinson to him to help with the answers.
is one of the co-authors of the Industrial Hemp Act
— passed in near-unanimous fashion (only one "nay" vote in the House
) in the last legislative session — which created a 10-year research program for growing the plant. Hemp, which contains less than .3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, can be used for cosmetics, food, fibers and, increasingly, a concrete-like building material
Federally, hemp is legal to be grown as a "research program" under the 2014 Farm Bill. Hemp grown for research can also be marketed.
Like the medical cannabis program, how to legally provide seeds for the hemp research is murky. "It just shows up," Jason Martin, CEO of Tree of Life, an Arkansas-based hemp seed seller operating in six states and hoping to sell seeds in Arkansas, had told the hemp board during a meeting.
Martin said that Hutchinson had been provided regulations before and that his new questions are an unnecessary delay tactic. Seeds for medical marijuana cultivation will be "just showing up, too; like the 'hand of God,' that's the technical term," he said. Tree of Life has scheduled a
seminar to teach growers about hemp on Feb. 22; he told the Times
it still plans to hold the event. However, Walker, who was going to speak during the seminar, will no longer attend.
Dial said the Plant Board was told the state needed to "get registered with the DEA as an importer." But the Hemp Association said the DEA should not regulate hemp,
since it is not classified as a drug. Dial is concerned that Hutchinson considers the DEA an authority.
Delays could keep hemp farmers from being able to plant in time to make a crop this year, said the Hemp Association.