As the deadline for states to transition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) final rule approaches, 45 states have so far chosen to manage their own hemp programs, according to the USDA’s online tracker.
The remaining five states have opted to hand their programs over to the USDA to regulate instead, mainly for budgetary reasons.
The resources needed to run hemp programs, and the budgets available to fund them, vary from state to state, according to Zachary Gihorski, associate director of public policy for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA). “Every state has a different setup,” Gihorski said.
The patchwork of state hemp laws results in a variety of needs for state departments of agriculture to run their programs. Some states have just one employee dedicated to running their programs, Gihorski said. Meanwhile, some states have more than one employee specifically for their hemp programs, while others have none.
The number of employees typically depends on program requirements, the number of growers in the state and available resources. For example, Wisconsin—which is moving regulatory authority to the USDA Jan. 1—has seven full-time staff and 15 seasonal hemp samplers to fulfill the needs for this year’s hemp program, according to Kevin Hoffman, public information officer for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). The state had nearly 1,250 growers registered for 2021.
“Staffing for hemp has varied based on program participation,” Hoffman said over email. “Full-time staff included a program manager, a regulatory specialist, a field operations coordinator (responsible for sampling, inspections, crop destruction), and four licensing/administrative/program development staff.”
In addition, the DATCP’s lab had two full-time staff and six part-time seasonal staff for its hemp program to be able to analyze nearly 1,700 hemp samples and conduct “significant R&D based on federal rule changes,” Hoffman said.
How states fund their programs also varies. Gihorski said some states may have to share a budget with other state-run programs, while others run solely on their program fee structures.
Many states have appropriations from legislators that provide funding, either wholly or in addition to the money brought in by fee structures. Mississippi, for example, needed to rely on the USDA to run its program because the governor did not provide funding for the program in last year’s appropriations bill.
Wisconsin, too, decided to switch to the USDA after the state’s governor did not include hemp program funding in his 2021-2023 budget.
The state experienced additional strains on its budget in 2021 despite having nearly the same number of growers licensed as it did in 2020. Wisconsin currently charges $250 per sample (in addition to cultivator licensing fees). However, “in the end, lots were not planted …, and hemp sample numbers came in substantially lower – about 500 fewer – than what was anticipated” this year, Hoffman said.
The state also spent more in 2021 to keep up with the USDA’s rule change, as it updated its program earlier this year. “Hemp program development time related to rule writings, program document revisions, website updating and laboratory R&D time for these types of costs were all charged to the hemp program,” Hoffman said.
Other states may have a smaller discrepancy between acres licensed versus grown, more wiggle room in their budgets, or a smaller need to revamp their programs to be in compliance with the final rule.
“It’s not designed to be a revenue generator, but it’s also not meant to be a drain, to whatever extent states can do that,” Gihorski said about state-run hemp programs.