COLUMBUS — Governor Mike DeWine signed a law Tuesday legalizing industrial hemp and the manufacture and sale of cannabidiol, a cannabis extract commonly known as CBD.

House Bill 57 puts the issue in the hands of the state’s Department of Agriculture, which is tasked with creating a system to license farmers who want to grow hemp.

The goal is to have the program in place next year so farmers can grow hemp by the spring of 2020, said Shelby Croft, agriculture department spokeswoman.

Stores throughout Ohio were counting on H.B. 57 to bring the state in line with the federal government, which legalized hemp cultivation last year.  

Hemp and marijuana both come from cannabis, but hemp has less THC, meaning it isn’t intoxicating. The crop has a variety of uses, including as CBD ingredients in food and nutritional supplements. It can also be used in industrial products such as rope.

Ohio stores already sell CBD, despite a ruling from the state's Board of Pharmacy last year that the extract may be sold only in medical-marijuana dispensaries.

Mustard Seed Market, which has two Akron-area stores and one in Solon, welcomed Tuesday's signing. In May, Mustard Seed introduced its own line of CBD products.

“This is big news for Ohio," the company said in a news release. "The customer testimonials for our CBD products have been nothing like we have ever experienced at Mustard Seed. We are thrilled to know it will be readily available to all of Ohio to purchase. This is also important for Ohio farmers to diversify their crops."

The store said it is exploring other ways to incorporate hemp/CBD into other products such as massage oils and lip balm.

The extract has something of a cult following, and users claim that it has medicinal qualities. Some studies point to CBD's potential benefits, but researchers warn that those studies are premature and that Ohioans should stick to proven medications.

State Rep. Randi Clites, D-Ravenna, attended DeWine's signing ceremony at the Ohio State Fair.

In a news release, she said decriminalizing hemp and CBD products will be a boon for the state.

“Creating a hemp growing and manufacturing program holds great promise for Ohio’s economy in the years to come,” she said.

A handful of states, including Kentucky and Texas, already allow farmers to grow hemp, but Ohio agriculture officials said farmers here must determine how to grow the crop in Ohio’s climate.

“The [Ohio Department of Agriculture] and the USDA, they’re still learning about hemp production,” Ohio Farm Bureau spokesman Ty Higgins said. “And Ohio farmers are going to learn right along with them.” Stores throughout Ohio already sell CBD as a nutritional supplement despite its illegality.

To grow hemp, farmers must be willing to submit their crops for testing to ensure they don’t surpass a THC threshold of 0.3 percent, Croft said.

The farming community still doesn’t know how lucrative hemp will be, Higgins said.

“Nobody knows if the market will be oversaturated, or if there are market forces in place that we don’t know about yet,” he said. But farmers are grateful that they’ll have the chance to try it, he said.

Franklin County Farm Bureau President Jeff Schilling said he suspects that hemp will appeal to farmers with a few acres seeking to tap into niche markets.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.