Mississippi Bill Would Legalize Industrial Hemp, Foundation to Thwart Federal Prohibition in Practice

JACKSON, Miss. (Feb. 1, 2017) – A bipartisan bill introduced in the Mississippi House would legalize the production and processing of industrial hemp for commercial purposes, setting the foundation to nullify federal prohibition in practice.

Rep, Joel Bomgar (R-Madison) introduced House Bill 180 (HB180) on Jan. 3. Kathy Sykes (D-Jackson) signed on as cosponsor. Under the proposed law, industrial hemp would be treated as an agricultural crop subject to regulation by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.

“Industrial hemp production and possession, and commerce in industrial hemp commodities and products, are authorized in this state.  Industrial hemp is an agricultural product that is subject to regulation by the department.”

The legislation directs the department to set up a licensing and regulation program for both hemp and hemp seed production. HB180 does not require federal permission for the issuance of licenses.

One potential loophole exists. HB180 does not specifically prohibit the the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce from requiring federal permission before issuing a license. In some states without specific prohibition, bureaucrats have thwarted the intent of the law by promulgating rules requiring growers to get federal approval. The legislators should consider amending HB180 to include language prohibiting the department from adopting any rules that would prohibit a person or entity from growing or distributing hemp based on the legal status of hemp under federal law. Such a provision was included in a Rhode Island law that went into effect last summer.

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. HB180 ignores federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.

OTHER STATES

By rejecting any need for federal approval, HB180 sets the stage to nullify the federal hemp ban in practice. Mississippi could join with other states – including Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, California and Vermont – that have simply ignored federal prohibition and legalized industrial hemp production within their state borders.

While prospective hemp growers would still have to take federal law into consideration, by eliminating the state requirement for federal permission, the Mississippi law would clear away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming within the borders of the state.

Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively nullifying federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2, 2105, 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 nullifying 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!

UP NEXT

HB180 was referred to the House Drug Policy Committee and House Public Health and Human Services Committee. It will need to pass both by a majority vote before moving on to the full House for further consideration.