ST. PAUL — The trade organization representing farmers, processors, distributors and others in the hemp industry on Aug. 12 announced that Joe Radinovich would become the group’s executive director.

In a news release, the Minnesota Hemp Association said Radinovich, a former candidate for Congress in Minnesota’s 8th District, would lead the organization. Days earlier, Radinovich announced that he doesn’t plan to challenge U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber in 2020.

Charlie Levine, president of the Minnesota Hemp Association and owner of Hemp Acres LLC, said Radinovich is someone who can help lead the group amid “enormous growth” in the industry. The number of licensed hemp growers in the state grew from 43 in 2018 to 310 in July of this year. And that demand continues to grow, according to Department of Agriculture officials. Three people run the program now and haven’t been able to keep up with the requests, he said.

“With the enormous growth we’re seeing throughout the industry and in our member ranks, we were looking for a leader who can help us maximize and build our collective power as an organization — both for our members and for consumers who have a growing demand for hemp products,” Levine said in a news release. “Joe is someone who can help us focus, build, and continue to grow and support the Minnesota hemp community.”

Growing industrial hemp became legal under state pilot programs as part of the 2014 Farm Bill and corresponding state legislation the next year. And in 2018, the federal Farm Bill legalized growing hemp for commercial purposes, blowing up the demand for the new crop.

More than 300 farmers grow crops of varying sizes, totaling more than 8,000 acres.

“There’s a lot of energy and excitement in the hemp space,” Radinovich said in the release. “The rapid innovation, attraction of new farmers and an industry that’s flourishing make it an exciting time to come on board and help MHA continue its growth.”

Hemp seeds and grains can be used to produce food, the stalk can be used to make rope and textiles and female flowers of the plant can be used to make cannabidiol or CBD, an extract used to address various health issues. The FDA does not recognize these products but several vendors sell them.

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