Yesterday, a Maryland state House committee approved a bill this week authorizing people to plant, grow, harvest, possess, process, sell, or buy industrial hemp in the state, effectively blocking the federal prohibition on the same. The vote was 18-2.
Introduced on Feb. 13 by Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-15) along with 11 bipartisan co-sponsors, House Bill 803 (HB803) would open up the market for industrial hemp in the state. It passed through the House Environment and Transportation Committee successfully on March 13.
After notifying the regulatory department, individuals would be able to cultivate and distribute the crop as they would any other plant, like a tomato. By removing the state prohibition on the plant, residents of Maryland would have an open door to start hemp farming should they be willing to risk violating the ongoing federal prohibition. This is exactly what has already happened in both Vermont and Colorado.
Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively thwarting federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group who hopes to plant 25 acres this spring. The Tennessee Agricultural department recently put out a call for licensing, signaling that hemp farming will start soon there too. And a law passed in South Carolina in 2014 authorizes the same.
Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $500 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!”.
But, since the enactment of the federally controlled-substances act in 1970, the Drug Enforcement Agency has prevented the production of hemp within the United States. Many hemp supporters feel that the DEA has been used as an “attack dog” of sorts to prevent competition with major industries where American-grown hemp products would create serious market competition: Cotton, Paper/Lumber, Oil, and others.
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 new “hemp amendment”
"…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oilseed 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."
HB803 goes beyond what is currently authorized by the feds, and has the potential to unleash a cash crop in Maryland regardless of federal approval. The bill is now set to receive a full vote in the state house. If enacted, HB803 would go into effect on October 1, 2015.
For Maryland: Call your state legislators and politely demand for them to support HB803.