By: Mariah Turner  

As every new year brings new opportunities, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) has officially opened the application process for the new 2020 hemp program. After the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill changed the legal status of hemp and removed the restrictions on the import and interstate movement of hemp in various forms, Pennsylvania revamped its hemp program to ensure the cultivation, testing, processing, distribution and sale of the Controlled Plant is regulated in compliance with federal laws and the Pennsylvania Controlled Plant and Noxious Weeds (“Act”)(3 Pa.C.S.A. § 1501 et seq.). The Act allows the PDA to issue a “General Permit” to all successful applicants that meet the requirements of the program. There is no limit on the number of permits that will be awarded, or the amount of hemp that will be permitted for this growing season. There is no better time to break into the Pennsylvania hemp market.

Although the hemp application is not as rigorous or expensive as the medical marijuana program, the requirements of the hemp application necessitate mastering of deadlines, compliance with regulations, and the ability to provide comprehensive information and documentation all before April 1, 2020. While April seems like a substantial amount of time, experience has shown that preparing for these very specific and regulated applications are time consuming and usually include some type of interaction, approval, or acquisition with state agencies and third parties. Although the PDA allows applicants to provide some information or documentation after April 1, applicants will still need to be diligent in completing those requirements in the time frames provided.

New applicants are not the only ones subject to this new program; 2019 permit winners are also required to fill out the 2020 application. The PDA states that the significant changes, such as FBI background checks for “Key Participants,” fully executed leases, permits for each physical location, and minimums of growing and maintaining hemp, require more than just a renewal for previously awarded 2019 permit. Fortunately, the PDA has alleviated the issue of not having a permit while the applications are processed for the 2019 permits that expire in December by extending the permits through February 2020.

As previously mentioned, the 2020 application has several new requirements that must be met to become a permit holder. Although not all changes are mentioned, some of the major changes include the following. First, the cost of a permit is $150, and an applicant pursuing multiple hemp properties (growing or processing) must have a permit for each separate location. Second, if you do not own the property for the proposed hemp location, a fully executed lease must be provided to the PDA. Third, the Key Participants, persons who have a direct or indirect financial interest, are required to have FBI background checks. Four, although there is no maximum quantity of hemp allowed, there are minimum plot sizes and plant numbers for each permit site (indoor or outdoor planting). Five, like medical marijuana, the hemp properties may not be located close to a school property or a public recreational area. Six, the PDA has compiled Prohibited Varieties and Varieties of Concern that may not be planted in the 2020 year, so applicants will need to make sure that the variety of hemp they wish to grow is not on that list. It is the responsibility of the applicants to list the hemp varieties to be planted and the grower to obtain the seed. The PDA will not involve itself in this process.

As all hopeful permit applicants may notice, receiving a permit will require an attention to detail and ensuring all materials are provided. Any incomplete application that is missing required information or documentation will not be processed by the PDA. Therefore, it is extremely important to make sure each applicant, especially any dealing with more than one hemp property, has every required piece of the application and meets the specific deadlines. As always, Cannabis Law PA is here to help applicants navigate through this process and has the experience in successfully assisting entities seeking a hemp permit within Pennsylvania. The PDA has provided a great new year’s gift, so applicants should jump at the opportunity while time is on your side. If you have questions on how to best get started, please contact Judith Cassel at (717) 703-0804.