PROVIDENCE, R.I. (March 30, 2016) – A bill introduced in the Rhode Island Senate would legalize the production and processing of industrial hemp for commercial purposes in the state, setting the foundation to thwart federal prohibition in practice.
A coalition of four Democrats and a Republican introduced Senate Bill 2763 (S2763) on March 10. Under the proposed law, industrial hemp would be treated as an agricultural product and could be grown as a crop, produced, possessed, distributed, and commercially traded pursuant to provisions in the bill. The legislation would create a regulatory and licensing structure to facilitate the development of a hemp industry in the state.
Language in the bill acknowledges federal prohibition on hemp, but correctly asserts the state can legally dictate its own policy notwithstanding federal law.
“States are not required to enforce federal law or prosecute people for engaging in activities prohibited by federal law. Therefore, compliance with this chapter does not put the state of Rhode Island in violation of federal law.”
Under current law, the federal government maintains virtual prohibition of hemp production, only allowing research facilities to grow the crop with a federal waiver. Passage of SB2763 would set the foundation for people of Rhode Island to block the federal ban in practice.
FEDERAL FARM BILL
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 oil-seed 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 remains prohibited. SB2763 ignores federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.
By rejecting any need for federal approval, S2763 would set the stage to stop the federal hemp ban in practice. South Dakota can join with other states – including Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Connecticut, Maine, North Dakota and Vermont – that have simply ignored federal prohibition and legalized industrial hemp production within their state borders.
While prospective hemp growers would still have to take federal law into consideration, by eliminating the state requirement for federal permission, the South Dakota legislature would clear away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming within the borders of the state.
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 of last year, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group. As more people engage in hemp production and the market grows within these states, more people will become emboldened creating an exponential wave, ultimately thwarting the federal ban in effect.
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!”.
S2763 represents an essential first step toward hemp freedom in the state of Rhode Island.
S2763 was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving on to the full Senate.