Veto Override: Maine Legislature Rejects Governor, Approves Bill to Allow Hemp Farming

AUGUSTA, Maine (June 17, 2015) – Yesterday, the Maine state Senate joined the House and voted to override Gov. LePage’s veto of a bill to authorize hemp farming in the state without gaining any federal permission.

Introduced by Rep. Deborah Sanderson (R-Chelsea) and cosponsored by a bipartisan coalition of seven Senators and Representatives, LD4 amends the current hemp farming law in the state by removing a requirement that licenses are contingent on approval by the Federal Government.  It reads, in part:

"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a person may  plant, grow, harvest, possess, process, sell and buy industrial hemp"

On May 12, the House voted 135-6 to override LaPage’s veto, and today, the Senate voted 27-6 to do the same. A 2/3 vote is required to override a veto in Maine and these votes easily cleared even that high hurdle.

Already on the books, Maine law authorized the same as long the Federal government gave permission to do so. Passage of LD4 into law removed the following from the Maine Revised Statutes:

"A license may not 20 be issued under this section unless:

A. The United States Congress excludes industrial hemp from the definition of “marihuana” for the purpose of the Controlled Substances Act, United States Code, Section 802(16); or

B. The United States Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration takes affirmative steps towards issuing a permit under United States Code, Chapter 13, Subchapter 1, Part C to a person holding a license issued by a state to grow industrial hemp."

This part of the bill was the primary reason LePage originally vetoed it. He said, “I simply cannot support inadvertently putting Maine’s hard working farmers at risk of violating federal criminal laws, which is the practical effect of this bill.”

COMMERCIAL, NOT JUST RESEARCH

The new law expressly authorizes individuals and businesses to engage in the farming, production and commerce of hemp in the state, and not just growth for research purposes as is being done in some states, like Kentucky.

While a farm amendment signed into law by Pres. Obama in 2014 authorized states to set up hemp farming research programs only through universities and other schools, some states have already taken steps beyond that federal approval and have started commercial hemp programs by private individuals and other businesses.

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 who hopes to plant 25 acres this year. North Dakota Gov. Dalrymple signed a similar bill into law this year, and another is on the desk of Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy.

MARKET POTENTIAL

LePage also suggested that there is no market for hemp. “At this time, there are no developed markets in Maine for hemp and it is unlikely that this product would command a price high enough to make this crop worth growing.”

But experts disagree. Recent economic reports suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is at least $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!”.

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.

“Maine has an opportunity to break into an emerging industry that will be of tremendous benefit to our state,” said Sanderson. “Not only would it open new opportunities for farmers, it would also provide local sourcing for many products made from hemp. The fibers from hemp can be used in textiles, paper, insulation, building materials and composites for auto bodies.”

EMERGENCY MEASURE

An amendment to the bill included an “emergency clause,” which bypasses the normal 90-day waiting period for a law to take effect. The bill notes that “farmers need adequate time to prepare for their upcoming growing seasons,” and supporters wanted to make sure the process moved forward immediately.

That amendment also “provides that hemp seeds acquired for cultivation of hemp in the State may come from any certified seed source rather than only approved Canadian producers of hemp seeds.” By allowing farmers to obtain seeds through regular sources rather than Canadian only, the new law makes it more difficult for the federal government to interfere.

NEXT UP

Since the emergency clause was enacted, the new law goes into effect immediately. While there are some rules that will need to be created by the Department of Agriculture, the sponsors of LD4 expressly included in the measure that all will be “routine technical” rather than “major substantive” rules, and required the commissioner to issue them.

The latter would require approval by the legislature, which would have delayed hemp farming for at least another year. The emergency clause ensures that supporters will have as much time as possible on their side.

Once this process is completed, it will be up to individuals and businesses in Maine to strike the final blow against federal bans on hemp farming. Should courageous farmers start growing industrial hemp without further authorization from Washington D.C., the decades long prohibition will be effectively thwarted in practice.


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