JUNEAU, Alaska (Feb. 1, 2017) – A bill prefiled in the Alaska Senate for the 2017 session would effectively legalize industrial hemp production in the state, setting the stage for people to thwart federal prohibition on the plant in practice.
Sen. Shelly Hughes (R) filed Senate Bill 6 (SB6) on Jan. 9. The legislation would, in effect, remove hemp from the controlled substance list, and authorize growing, harvesting, processing and possessing the plant without a license.
The proposed law would make possessing hemp an “affirmative defense” for anybody charged with manufacture, delivery, possession, or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance under Alaskan law. In other words, if a defendant proved they were in possession of industrial hemp, they would be innocent of any crime under state law. For all practical purposes, this would remove hemp from the controlled substance list.
SB6 would also open the door to grow industrial hemp in the state just like any other crop, without any state regulation by exempting it from licensing requirements under the state’s marijuana law.
“An individual manufacturing, delivering, or displaying industrial hemp is not required to apply for licensure or be licensed under this section.”
Passage of this legislation would have a similar effect as a bill passed in Connecticut in 2015. In short, the state would essentially treat industrial hemp like other plants, such as tomatoes. By ending state prohibition, residents in Alaska would have an open door to start industrial hemp farming should they be willing to risk violating ongoing federal prohibition.
FEDERAL FARM BILL
Early in 2014, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The “hemp amendment”
"…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oil-seed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law."
In short, current federal law authorizes the farming of hemp – by research institutions only, for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited. SB6 simply ignores federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production in Alaska anyway.
By rejecting any need for federal approval, state legalization of hemp sets the stage to block the federal hemp ban in practice. Alaska could join other states – including Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, California and others – that have simply ignored federal prohibition and legalized industrial hemp production within their state borders.
While prospective hemp growers still have to take federal law into consideration, by eliminating the state requirement for federal permission, these laws clear away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming within the borders of the state. As more states simply ignore federal prohibition, the likelihood of federal enforcement diminishes.
Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively stoppingfederal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2 of 2015, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group. As more people engage in hemp production and the market grows within these states, more people will become emboldened creating an exponential wave, ultimately blocking the federal ban in effect.
HUGE MARKET FOR HEMP
According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. is the only developed nation that hasn’t developed an industrial hemp crop for economic purposes.
Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $600 million per year. They count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s #1 importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.
During World War II, the United States military relied heavily on hemp products, which resulted in the famous campaign and government-produced film, “Hemp for Victory!”.
SB6 represent an essential first step toward hemp freedom in New Hampshire.
SB6 has not been referred to a committee at this time. Once it receives an assignment, it will have to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.