New York Bill Would Legalize Industrial Hemp for Production and Distribution

Last month, a bill was introduced in the New York Assembly that would authorize the farming, production, and sale of industrial hemp in the state, effectively thwarting in practice the federal prohibition on the same.

Introduced on Aug. 5 by Asm. Donna Lupardo (D-Bighamton), Assembly Bill 8334 (A8334) sets up the framework to effectuate a commercial hemp farming program in the state. It reads, in part:

"Industrial hemp is an agricultural product which may be grown, produced, possessed, and commercially traded in the state pursuant to the provisions of [A8334]"

Hemp cultivators would still be subject to regulation and licensing requirements under the legislation. In order to operate an industrial hemp field lawfully under A8334, farmers would have to pass a criminal background check and be subject to fingerprinting. Licenses may be revoked if forms are falsified or if the applicant is found to be in violation of A8334 or any other state law. Licenses would be valid for between twenty-four and thirty-six months after they are issued.

The Commissioner of Agriculture and Markers would be tasked in developing rules to “allow for the industrial hemp to be tested during growth for tetrahydrocannabinol levels and to allow for supervision of the industrial hemp during sowing, growing season, harvest, storage and processing” under A8334.

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. While the agency claims that growing is not prohibited, it also stipulates that growing can only be done with a DEA-issued license. However, only one license has ever been issued by the federal government.

By expressly rejecting any need for federal approval, A8334 would block this federal ban in practice. Passage would join New York with other states – including Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Connecticut, Maine, North Dakota 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 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. 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 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!”.

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 New York bill rejects this prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.

A8334 is an essential first step toward hemp freedom in the state of New York. It won’t be heard in the Assembly Agricultural Committee until at least early January when the legislature reconvenes. In the meantime, it is important for members of that committee to be alerted of this bill’s importance and why it should be approved as quickly as possible in the new year.