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Minnesota hemp grower fights state to keep his crop

Brandon Stahl, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

LANESBORO, Minn. -- Eagles often soar overhead as Luis Hummel tends to his hemp crop in southeastern Minnesota. Though he has only a few acres located just down the road from the Eagle Bluff Learning Center, what he's hoping to harvest in the fall could provide a multimillion-dollar yield.

The Department of Agriculture wants him to destroy it all, saying he's violated the terms of his hemp growers license. Now Hummel has taken the state to court to save his crop.

A self-described hippie with a mohawk, a body covered in tattoos and a mission "to unify humanity" with hemp, Hummel's demeanor changes when it comes to the coming legal fight ahead with the agriculture department. He's the first grower to lose his license since growing hemp became legal in Minnesota in 2015.

"This is war," Hummel said, standing among newly planted rows of hemp.

The battle between Hummel and the state highlights the challenges of regulating an industry that proponents say could be a billion-dollar business.

The number of hemp farmers has grown like a weed since it was legalized. But Paul Johnson, president of Minnesota Hemp Farmers and Manufacturers Association, hears daily from members who are struggling with the state over a lack of clear communication, Johnson said. Growers don't understand what rules need to be followed to stay legal, he said.

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The agriculture department doesn't "understand their own regulations," he said. "They say one thing one day and do something different the next."

Part of the frustration stems from new federal and state laws governing an industry that's growing faster than regulators can keep pace, said Whitney Place, an assistant agriculture commissioner who oversees the plant protection program.

"We want this to be a really successful industry," she said. "These new entrepreneurs want to do all of these things and develop this new product, but we're all trying to figure out the regulations."

Ditch weed

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