Rhode Island House Committee Passes Bill to Legalize Hemp Farming

By a 14-2 vote this week, an important House committee passed a bill that would authorize and regulate the growth and production of industrial hemp, effectively thwarting federal prohibition of the plant in practice.

Introduced by Rep. Cale Keable (D-Burrillville) along with cosponsor Reps. Newberry, Price, Blazejewski, and Slater, House Bill 6177 (H6177) creates the framework to allow the growth and sale of hemp as an agricultural product. The legislation would require hemp farmers to register with the division of agriculture, and would give the Department of Health regulatory power over sales, storage and growth of hemp products. Under the proposed law:

“Hemp/CBD rich   hemp   products”   means   all   products   made   from   the   plants, including,  but  not  limited  to,  concentrated  oil,  cloth,  cordage,  fiber,  food,  fuel,  paint,  paper, construction materials, plastics, seed, seed meal, seed oil, and certified seed for cultivation.

PROHIBITED BY FEDS

Industrial hemp now falls under the federal Controlled Substance Act of 1970. It technically remains legal to grow industrial hemp, but farmers must obtain a permit from the DEA, a nearly impossible feat. For all practical purposes, the feds maintain a policy of virtual prohibition. H6177 effectively blocks the federal prohibition on hemp farming, opening the door for production and sales within the state despite federal regulations.

In 2014, Pres. Obama signed a farm bill into law that includes 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.

H6177 goes a step further than what the feds currently ‘allow,’ authorizing industrial development of the hemp plant. This represents an essential first step forward. In the same way they have effectively blocked federal marijuana laws, states defying the federal industrial hemp ban can unleash a tidal wave of resistance that overwhelms federal restrictions.

NOT ALONE

Passage into law will ensure that Rhode Island other states – including Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont, North Dakota, and Maine – that have already passed similar measures.

Farmers in southeast Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively subverting federal restrictions on these 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 that hopes to plant 25 acres this spring.

North Dakota Gov. Dalrymple signed a similar bill into law this year, and another is on the desk of Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy. The Maine legislature overrode Gov. LePage’s veto to pass a bill legalizing commercial hemp farming and production into law this week.

HUGE MARKET

Experts estimate some 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food and body products, clothing, auto parts, building materials, biofuels and other goods. The Hemp Industries Association estimates that the total U.S. retail value of hemp products in 2014 came in at $620 million. The U.S leads the world in hemp imports, getting most of its supply from Canada and China while the federal government maintains its prohibition. If the state opens up the hemp market in Rhode Island, it would likely serve as a powerful jobs creator and drive significant economic growth.

H6177 now moves to the full House where a debate and vote is expected soon.