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Under Pilot Program, Oklahoma Turns To Hemp As Possible Revenue Source

Magalie L'Abbé / Flickr

Officials at Oklahoma's Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry are working on rules to regulate the cultivation of industrial hemp.

Governor Mary Fallin signed bipartisan legislation this week that legalizes the crop in the state.

Industrial hemp is grown for its fiber and its oil, and can be used to make rope, clothes, paper, plastics, insulation and biofuel.

Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle) is one of the bill's authors. He says the new industry could create thousands of jobs and pour millions of dollars into the state's economy.

"Currently, Oklahoma can import hemp but can’t grow it. This will help diversify our state’s struggling economy and will provide a tremendous boost to the agriculture industry."

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry will regulate industrial hemp. The department's Kenny Naylor wants farmers to be able to plant hemp this spring. He says universities will get licenses to research, and they in turn will subcontract out to farmers to grow the crop.

"First steps in this will be people getting with the universities wanting to be a part of the program."

One farmer who plans to plant hemp is Jon Kelly from Bartlesville. Kelly says he will plant about five acres to produce CBD oil, and another 25 to 30 acres for hemp fiber.

"I've already got companies that are interested in purchasing it for as little as 8 cents per pound. So it depends on how tall, how much it can yield, and of course how much pounds per acre a guy can get."

Hemp is related to marijuana, but it has very low levels of marijuana's psychoactive ingredient. The Department of Agriculture will monitor the crops and test the plants to make sure they have a low level of THC, the compound that gets marijuana users high.

The final regulation rules will be voted on the department's next board meeting on May 8.

Jacob McCleland was KGOU's News Director from 2015 to 2018.
Ryan LaCroix is the Director of Content and Audience Development for KOSU.
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