Missouri House Passes Bill to Legalize Commercial Hemp Farming Despite Federal Ban

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (April 21, 2017) –  Last week, the Missouri House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would remove industrial hemp from the state’s list of controlled substances, and create a program for the licensing and regulation commercial hemp production. Passage into law would set the foundation to block the deplorable federal prohibition on the same, in practice.

Rep. Paul Curtman, introduced House Bill 170 (HB170) on Jan. 4. The legislation removes industrial hemp from the state’s list of controlled substances and designates it as an agricultural crop. The bill includes a “shall issue” licensing and monitoring program that would allow producers to cultivate hemp for commercial purposes.

On April 10, the House passed HB170 by a 120-26 vote.

An amendment to the bill opened the door for more widespread hemp cultivation. As originally drafted, production would have been limited to fields greater then 2.5 acres, and would not have authorized small-scale or home grown hemp for commercial purposes. That restriction was removed by the amendment.

The bill includes a provision allowing farmers to retain seeds for planting the year following a harvest. In some states, seeds are extremely hard to come by when they cannot be retained year over year and farmers have to rely on the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for their supply.

To defuse law enforcement opposition and address claims that industrial hemp would be indistinguishable from it’s sister plant, marijuana, the legislation also includes a provision which allows the Department of Agriculture to require an “Industrial Hemp Monitoring System,” which is defined in the bill as:

"an electronic seed-to-sale tracking system that includes, but is not limited to, testing and data collection established and maintained by a grower or handler and available to the department for purposes of documenting and for monitoring agricultural hemp seed and industrial hemp plant development throughout the life cycle of an industrial hemp plant cultivated as an agricultural product from seed planting to final packaging."

Significantly, HB170 does not require growers to get federal permission to cultivate hemp in the state.

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 or within sate pilot programs, for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited. HB170 ignores federal prohibition and authorize commercial farming and production anyway.

OTHER STATES

By rejecting any need for federal approval, state legalization of hemp sets the stage to thwart the federal hemp ban in practice. With the passage HB170, Missouri would join other states – including Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Vermont. California, and others – 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, HB170 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 stopping federal 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 thwarting 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!”.

Passage of HB170 would represent an essential first step toward hemp freedom in Missouri.

WHAT’S NEXT

HB170 now moves to the Senate for further consideration. It was referred to the Senate Agriculture, Food Production, and Outdoor Resource Committee where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.