Last week, a new law took effect removing the ban on industrial hemp farming in Connecticut, setting the stage to thwart in practice the federal prohibition on the same.
Introduced by State Reps. Melissa Ziobron (R-34) and Aundré Bumgardner (R-41), House Bill 5780 (HB5780) opens the door for a full-scale commercial hemp market in the state by treating it as any other crop for farming. It passed the House by a vote of 142-2 on June 2, and passed the Senate by a vote of 36-0 on June 3. It became law without a signature from Gov. Malloy and goes into effect on Wednesday as Public Act 15-202.
The new law removes any mention of industrial hemp from the part of the criminal code that classifies marijuana as a banned controlled substance. From the official summary of the bill:
"This bill legalizes industrial hemp by removing it from the state “marijuana” and “cannabis-type substances” definitions, thereby removing its status as a controlled substance. Thus, the bill allows industrial hemp to be grown, used, and sold under state law." [emphasis added]
In short, industrial hemp will essentially be treated like other plants, such as tomatoes, by government officials in Connecticut. By removing the state prohibition on the plant, residents of Connecticut would have an open door to start industrial 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 blocking 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. Laws passed last year in Tennessee and South Carolina, and this year in North Dakota and Maine, all legalize hemp even though the federal government considers this plant illegal.
HUGE MARKET POTENTIAL
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 deplorable federal 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.
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."
HB5780 an essential first step forward, and will likely need to be followed by additional legislation implementing the program, unless – like in Colorado, Oregon and Vermont – courageous farmers in Connecticut start growing industrial hemp without further authorization.