To the Governor: Rhode Island Bill Would Legalize Hemp; Set Foundation to Stop Federal Prohibition in Practice

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (June 21, 2016) – The Rhode Island legislature has passed a bill to 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 five Democrats introduced House Bill 8232 (H8232) on May 19. As introduced, the legislation would have allowed state-licensed representatives of the Narragansett Indian Tribe to produce, possess, distribute, and commercially trade industrial hemp. In a rapid series of events, the bill was amended in the House Committee of Health Education and Welfare to apply to everybody.

On June 17, the House passed the amended bill 71-0. The Senate concurred the next day by a 26-7 margin. H8232 will now head to Gov. Gina Raimondo’s desk for her signature. She will have six days after transmittal (excepting Sundays) to sign or veto the bill. If she doesn’t act, it will become law without her signature.

Under the proposed law, industrial hemp would be treated as an agricultural crop subject to regulation by the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation. The legislation reads in part:

“Hemp is an agricultural product which may be grown as a crop, produced, possessed, distributed, and commercially traded pursuant to the provisions of this chapter…The department shall adopt rules to provide for the implementation of this chapter, which shall include rules to  require hemp to be tested during growth for THC levels and to require inspection of hemp during sowing, growing season, harvest, storage, and processing.”

H8232 would prohibit the Department of Business Regulation from adopting any rules that would prohibit a person or entity from growing or distributing hemp based on the legal status of hemp under federal law. 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.”

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. The proposed Rhode Island law ignores federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.

OTHER STATES

By rejecting any need for federal approval, H8232 would set the stage to block the federal hemp ban in practice. Rhode Island would 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 Rhode Island law 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 stopping 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 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!”.

H8232 represents an essential first step toward hemp freedom in the state of Rhode Island.


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