In this April 23, 2018, file photo, Trevor Eubanks, plant manager for Big Top Farms, shovels dried hemp as branches hang drying in barn rafters overhead at their production facility near Sisters, Oregon. Credit: Don Ryan / AP

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Growing hemp commercially in Maine is rewarding and extremely challenging, as I can personally attest. It’s no surprise that just three years into this new Maine industry, most folks have quit, leaving a core of about 49 dedicated growers. We’re betting that with hard work and dedication we can create a viable agricultural sector for Maine’s economy that helps support family farms and small local businesses. The 2021 hemp crop was worth $712 million nationally and has tremendous growth potential.

One of the trickier aspects of growing hemp is complying with U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations so our crop is federally legal, unlike marijuana (hemp contains only a minute amount of THC, the “psychoactive” compound in cannabis). This allows us to ship the crop and its derivative products across state lines legally and also gives us access to insurance and essential financial services that would otherwise be unavailable. Complying with USDA regulations is important to a successful hemp business.

Unfortunately, the Maine Legislature at this very late hour has still not passed a bill that would ensure Maine’s hemp program is USDA approved because of objections to the USDA’s rules. Everyone agrees some of these rules are bad and need to be changed. But rather than Maine “going rogue” and putting its fledgling hemp industry at risk with a noncompliant program, we should push Congress to fix the USDA regulations. Rep. Chellie Pingree has a bill already drafted in the House — that’s the proper vehicle for addressing the problem.

Every Maine hemp grower I’ve spoken to agrees on this point. The Legislature should pass the “majority report” version of  LD 1942 to support Maine’s hemp industry.

Ed Geis