COLUMBIA, S.C. (Feb. 1, 2017) – A bill introduced in the South Carolina House would establish the South Carolina Industrial Hemp Program. Passage would ease some regulations, expand the market and further thwart federal prohibition in effect.
Rep. Michael Pitts (R-Laurens) and Rep. Russell Ott (D-St. Matthews) introduced House Bill 3559 (H3559) on Jan. 24. The legislation would classify industrial hemp as an agricultural crop and authorize institutions of higher education to conduct research. It specifically declares hemp may not be considered an adulterant, opening the door to producing hemp for human consumption. The legislation also explicitly remove commercial hemp production from any state prosecution.
"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a person engaged in cultivating, processing, selling, transporting, possessing, or otherwise distributing industrial hemp, or selling industrial hemp products from industrial hemp, is not subject to any civil or criminal actions under South Carolina law for engaging in these activities. Nothing in this chapter limits or precludes the importation or exportation of industrial hemp or industrial hemp products."
Perhaps the most significant provisions in H3559 are those relating to hemp seed. It authorizes growers to import and resell industrial hemp seed.
"A grower may use any propagation method including, but not limited to, planting seeds or starts or the use of clones or cuttings, to produce industrial hemp. Nothing in this article limits or precludes a grower from propagating or cultivating noncertified industrial hemp seed."
This provision would encourage the development of hemp seed and expand its supply in the state. A shortage of usable seed throws up one of the biggest barriers to hemp research and farming. Few domestic seed sources exist, and the federal government strictly regulates importation and transportation of hemp seeds.
Finally, H3559 would create a testing program to ensure hemp crops remain below the allowable level of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration.
In 2014, Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill making it “lawful for an individual to cultivate, produce, or otherwise grow industrial hemp in this State to be used for any lawful purpose, including, but not limited to, the manufacture of industrial hemp products, and scientific, agricultural, or other research related to other lawful applications for industrial hemp.” Passage of H3559 would further liberalize the state’s treatment of industrial Hemp and encourage the development of a hemp industry in South Carolina.
Two cosponsors have also signed onto the bill.
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. H3559 ignores federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.
By rejecting any need for federal approval, H3559 sets the stage to block the federal hemp ban in practice. South Carolina could take another step to join with other states – including Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, California 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 state requirement for federal permission, the South Carolina law would further 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 stopping federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2, 2105, 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 blocking 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!”
H3559 was referred to the Agriculture, Natural Resources & Environmental Affairs Committee where will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.