JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Apr. 13, 2016) – On Monday, the Missouri House passed a bill to authorize the growth and production sale of industrial hemp for commercial purposes by larger producers. Passage into law would represent a foundation to thwart the federal prohibition in practice.
Introduced by Rep. Paul Curtman, House Bill 2038 (HB2038) designates industrial hemp as an agricultural crop, rather than a controlled substance. It includes a licensing and monitoring program which allows larger producers to start growing the plant for commercial purposes.
The bill also 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.
The House passed the bill by a vote of 123-39.
In order to operate an industrial hemp field lawfully under the proposed law, farmers would be required to have their crops inspected by regulators to insure they do “not exceed three-tenths of one percent on a dry weight basis.” Farmers would also be required to pay “reasonable fees as determined by the department [of agriculture] for the purpose of carrying out the duties of the department.”
Due to heavy opposition from law enforcement, who claimed 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
The bill does not include any provisions to authorize small-scale or home grown hemp for commercial purposes, which has drawn the ire of some libertarian activists.
However, a similar restriction was originally created in Oregon, where the state didn’t allow those with less than a 2.5 acre crop to grow the plant, and over time as the public’s fear of hemp subsided, an effort began to get the regulations relaxed. This year, Gov. Brown signed a bill into law removing any and all plot-size restrictions on commercial hemp. (learn more here)
“What this really gets down to is the power of the people,” said public policy analyst Mike Maharrey. “We’ve learned in recent years that just cracking the door open a little bit, like this bill in Missouri will do, can create opportunities to make the case for more freedom down the line.”
BEYOND FEDERAL PERMISSION
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 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.
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 is still prohibited. The Missouri bill rejects this prohibition on some farmers and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.
By rejecting any need for federal approval, HB2038 would set the stage to block this federal ban in practice. Passage would join Missouri with other states – including Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont – that have passed similar measures.
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. Laws passed in other states in recent years authorize hemp farming to various degrees and commercial production is getting off the ground, even if slowly, as in Tennessee.
An interesting case is in Oregon, where the state also started out with
“What this gets down to is the power of the people,” said public policy analyst Mike Maharrey. “When enough people tell the feds to pound sand, there’s not much D.C. can do to continue their deplorable prohibition on this productive plant.”
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!”.
HB2038 will now move to the state Senate. It will first be assigned to a committee where it will need to pass by majority vote before the full Senate can consider it.
“In a state where all commercial hemp farming is currently considered a criminal activity, passage of HB2038 may represent a just first step, but it’s an essential one,” said Maharrey.