In this blog post we explore the wonderful world of government relations in hemp.
There are at least 2 basic models to productive government relations in hemp, depending on the farmer’s predisposition to regulators, and the regulator’s predisposition to hemp:
Plan A: Collaborate, Cooperate, Advocate.
Plan B: Questions are a burden to others, answers a prison for oneself.
PLAN A: COLLABORATE, COOPERATE, ADVOCATE:
If you have some credibility in your ag community and want to demonstrate local leadership and service to others, and if your hemp regulators are generally supportive of hemp, then this approach may be for you.
In many if not most cases, hemp farmers still have more understanding than regulators do about hemp farming (or at least more incentive to learn about it quickly). Fortunately, many regulators know this and are eager to learn from their hemp-farming stakeholders. We are all participating in the birth of a new industry, and if that doesn’t excite your local regulators to be as collaborative and supportive as they can, or if their primary concern seems to be avoiding trouble with law enforcement or satisfying the worries of the reefer madness crowd, then you might want to consider whether hemp farming in that locale is actually such good idea.
- Collaborate: Follow the instructions for the permit application and seek out the regulatory officials in charge of administering it. Courtesy calls are perfect. ‘Hi I’m Joe farmer and I’m super excited to plant hemp here this year; we’ve got good folks and I know the industry and the regs are evolving everywhere, just wanted to let you know we’re here and happy to be a resource for your team as things evolve.” Something like that. Strike up a conversation about how things are going for them, build rapport. You want them to like you and relate to you as a local farmer. Then you can help them help you. But don’t ask a lot of questions (see Plan B).
- Cooperate: Take the initiative to check the boxes the bureaucrats want, even if some seem off the mark. Then circle back to them and let them know: ‘so we followed your instructions and hope we got it right; would you like some feedback on the process from the permittee’s perspective?’ Hopefully they say yes, and draw you into more follow-up conversations so you can be a resource for them and others.
- Advocate: If the regulators seem disinterested in your feedback, don’t give up but stay positive: “You guys are doing a ton of work and I know it’s complicated, but these specific items are really slowing us down and other farms are having the same problem. I think they’ve solved this in other jurisdictions, if you like I’d be happy to find out some potential improvements and share them with you.”
- If you’re still not getting anywhere, then it might be time to elevate the issue to your elected representatives. Of course this sort of thing is more art than science, and specific to each situation; if you’d like some advice on this please contact us and we’ll be happy to help. Alternatively, it might be time to switch gears to Plan B…
PLAN B: QUESTIONS ARE A BURDEN TO OTHERS, ANSWERS A PRISON TO ONESELF.
You want as much certainty as possible before making investments, but you won’t be able to obtain more certainty than your local permit requirements provide (for example pre-registration of acceptable strains). You have to decide whether the certainty provided by the law is enough to mitigate your risk below your tolerance level, and you can’t count on regulators to provide you any additional certainty beyond that. So don’t ask them to: the last thing any regulator wants to do is to provide a specific interpretation of the law: they will always err on the side of caution lest they be found liable later for giving you bad advice, and then your hands will be tied.
Case in point: the law in your jurisdiction says strains must be under 0.3% Total THC to be planted. So, what if your strain shows 0.306%? If you were to ask the regulator, the honest answer would most likely be, “the law doesn’t say how to round these numbers, so I don’t really know.” But now they’re in a tough spot because they know they may be called upon to officially approve or reject the strain later. If you force them to answer that question beforehand, the safest answer for them would be ‘not compliant.’ Now that this is in writing, your hands (and theirs) are tied. But who knows if they would have made that decision in the official approval process? You might be better off just submitting the strain for approval, without asking first, and then see what they decide. Let the process run its course, especially when it costs you little or nothing to do so.
Who should I be developing relationships with?
State or County Ag officials would be tops on the list, through the permitting process.
Sheriff: is good. Obviously you want them to know you’re growing hemp not weed, and also you may need their help come harvest time (deterring theft), but a much better way to engage is to ask their advice about how to make the farm as secure as possible, and what you can do to help them in deterring criminal activity. Let them know you’re their partner in fighting crime, and that you recognize a hemp farm is a target, and so you want to do everything you can to make their job as easy as possible.
Neighbors: it depends. Like anything else, take careful consideration of what their concerns may be, such as whether they grow hemp as well, or whether they are likely to find the odor a nuisance, or if they are worried about crime or ‘undesirables,’ and also take care not to cede your own private property rights, and also look for ways you can help each other. ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
County commissioners: I would lump them in with the regulators in Plan A. “Hi I’m Joe farmer and want you to know I’m farming hemp this year in the county; I’m in good contact with the Ag agency and I’m sure you are too, but I hemp is complicated and so if you ever want a farmer’s perspective please call on me any time and I’ll be happy to share what we’ve learned.”