BISMARCK, N.D., Feb. 19, 2015 – By a unanimous 13-0 vote yesterday, a North Dakota state House committee approved a bill that would authorize the farming, production, and sale of industrial hemp in the state, effectively rejecting the decades-long federal prohibition on the same.
Introduced by Reps. David Monson and Alan Fehr and Sen. Tom Campbell, House Bill 1436 (HB1436) not only sets up the framework to effectuate a commercial hemp farming program in the state, it expressly rejects any need for federal approval before growing hemp in the state. It reads, in part: "A license required by this section is not conditioned on or subject to review or approval by the United States drug enforcement agency."
Passage into law will ensure that Washington will join join five other states – Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vermont – that have already passed similar measures. Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, rejecting 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 who hopes to plant 25 acres this spring. The Tennessee Agricultural department recently put out a call for licensing, signaling that hemp farming will start soon there too.
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 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.
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 new “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.
HB1436 follows up on the farm bill’s authorization for state-level hemp research, but goes a step further by authorizing commercial development of the crop as well.
"Any person licensed under this section is presumed to be growing or processing industrial hemp for commercial purposes or research"
This is 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 start growing industrial hemp without further authorization.
The bill now moves to the House floor for debate and vote.