CHARLESTON, W. Va. (April 7, 2017) – This week, the West Virginia Senate gave final approval to a bill that would significantly expand the state’s hemp licensing program, opening the door for anybody in the state to produce or process industrial hemp for commercial purposes. If signed by Gov. Jim Justice, the law would set the foundation to end federal prohibition in effect.
Del. Jeff Eldridge (D-Alum Creek) and Del. Jim Butler (R-Henderson) introduced House Bill 2453 (HB2453) on Feb. 15. The legislation would remove language in the current hemp licensing program restricting it to the Department of Agriculture and state institutions of higher learning. Under the proposed law, any person with a license could plant, grow, harvest, possess, process, sell, and buy industrial hemp.
The licensing program is “shall issue,” meaning the Department of Agriculture would be required to issue a license to any person meeting statutory requirements. Without this section, the department could deny applications for a myriad of reasons.
“I think West Virginia is kind of in the center; we could have the industry move here to process hemp the plant itself and extract all of the derivatives from the plant you can,” Eldridge said in an interview.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported the limits of the current program due to its conformity with federal law has hindered the development of a hemp industry.
“But because of the strict requirements under the 2014 bill, growers are not able to sell their plants and cannot transport them across state lines to be turned into those useable products. That’s limited the ability to create a real hemp industry in the state.”
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, or within state pilot programs, for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited. HB2453 ignores federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.
By rejecting any need for federal approval, HB2453 sets the stage to block the federal hemp ban in practice. West Virginia could 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 the state requirement for federal permission, the West Virginia 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 thwarting 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 stopping 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!”
Gov. Justice will have five days (excluding Sunday) to sign or veto HB2453. If he doesn’t take action, it will become law without his signature. West Virginia residents should contact the governor’s officer and urge him to sign the bill. You can find contact his office at 304.558.2000 or 1.888.438.2731.