AUGUSTA — So far, only the Passamaquoddy Tribe and a Portland resident have received permission to grow what would be the state’s first licensed crops of industrial hemp.

They’re setting off into unknown territory in Maine at a time when federal law prohibits commercial hemp cultivation.

Republican Rep. Deborah Sanderson of Chelsea, who sponsored last year’s hemp legalization bill, said the state has been “very slow” in getting the crop going. Benedicta potato farmer Glenn Lane, who credits his late wife, Rebecca, with spearheading the bill, said the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has prolonged the rule-making process and has not advocated for hemp aggressively enough.

But a spokesman for the department said that the process of creating inspection and violation rules went quickly, for such a complicated issue, and that federal law has been the biggest impediment.

University of Maine Extension professor John Jemison said he plans to seek a federal Drug Enforcement Administration permit this fall to research hemp cultivation and its potential use as food and cannabidiol oil.

Agriculture department spokesman John Bott said there’s no plan to get a DEA permit. And even if the department did, seed could be sold only to research institutions, he said.


Such issues didn’t keep Steven Zeno of Portland from applying. Last week, he planted hemp seeds from a Colorado food bank on a one-acre plot in Monmouth.

Zeno has formed the Maine Hemp Association and launched a crowdfunding campaign to buy the costly equipment needed to harvest and process hemp, a non-psychoactive variety of cannabis. He hopes farmers will eventually share seeds and machines and produce oil, fuel pellets, protein and plastic.

Quoddy Hemp Manufacturing LLC spokeswoman Diana Nelson said that the company’s seeds come from Kentucky, and that the Passamaquoddy Tribe is researching what kinds of hemp might grow best in northern New England.

“We’re going to let the plant dictate what industry emerges from it,” she said.

This fall, Maine voters will consider legalizing recreational marijuana – another potential avenue for the tribe. But for now, the tribe’s moving ahead with plans to grow 25 acres of hemp on its land, with hopes of providing needed revenue.

Jemison said hemp could succeed as a rotational crop, but it’s tough creating a new industry amid federal anti-drug laws.

Though timber processing mills could be modified to process hemp, Jemison noted that Maine lacks the infrastructure of a tobacco-producing state like Kentucky. And the next president could always boost federal enforcement, Jemison said.

“I don’t think it’s going to hurt us to let somebody else dive in and tell us how deep the water is,” he said.

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