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Industrial hemp produces a dense stand of plants. The seeds are harvested and can be used for oil products. The fiber of the plant stalks is currently not harvested in North Dakota. John M. Steiner / Forum News Service

Minnesota hemp farmers could sell to medical marijuana producers under new bill

ST. PAUL — A new market could emerge for Minnesota’s licensed hemp farmers.

Bipartisan legislation introduced Feb. 18 in the state Senate would allow hemp farmers to sell their product to in-state medical cannabis manufacturers.

Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, who co-authored the bill, said it would give local growers another source for their product, which typically is used in food, clothing and rope.

“A lot of people think industrial hemp is only a food,” she said. “It has medicinal purposes. It can be used for insulation. Some people are trying to open a biodiesel market. Let the entrepreneur’s juices flow and keep the jobs local.”

LeafLine Labs in Cottage Grove is one of two state-certified entities permitted to grow, harvest and manufacture medicinal marijuana. It shares the niche market with Otsego-based Minnesota Medical Solutions.

Medical cannabis — in pill, liquid and vapor form — became available in Minnesota on July 1, 2015, and is used to treat such conditions as cancer-related nausea, seizures, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and ALS.

The 2018 farm bill legalized hemp when the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized it as a legitimate crop. Hemp comes from the same plant family as marijuana, but contains very little THC, the psychoactive chemical compound that can induce a high in marijuana users. Both contain cannabidiols.

To be legal, hemp must contain no more than .03 percent THC.

John Strohfus began growing hemp on his Hastings farm in 2016. Like the other 50 or so growers in the state, he is licensed through the MDA’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program.

Leafline is located 8 miles from his farm, he pointed out.

Lifting the restrictions would create jobs and provide another source for patients, he said.

“It doesn't make any sense for farmers,” Strohfus said. “It doesn't make any sense for the medical cannabis provider, nor does it make any sense for the patients to have the prohibition that we do today.”

The legislation was referred to the Agricultural, Rural Development, and Policy Housing Committee.

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