West Virginia Bill Would Allow Industrial Hemp Production Without Federal Permission

CHARLESTON, W. Va. (Jan. 26, 2016) – A West Virginia bill would allow the state hemp seed commissioner to issue licenses for industrial hemp production without first obtaining federal waivers. Passage of this legislation would set the foundation to thwart the federal prohibition of hemp within the state.

Rep. Lloyd Arnold (D-Lincoln) introduced House Bill 2807 (HB2807) with four bipartisan co-sponsors on Jan. 13. The legislation would amend the state’s industrial hemp laws to allow licensed growers to produce industrial hemp, and licensed handlers to process industrial hemp and seed, without the seed commissioner obtaining federal waivers first. The bill would cut the federal government completely out of the state’s hemp policy.

Under current West Virginia law, hemp can only be grown for research purposes by universities in compliance with current federal recommendations. HB2807 de-couples the state of West Virginia from the federal government with regards to industrial hemp, allowing it to be produced for distribution in the marketplace.

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. HB2807 ignores federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.

OTHER STATES

By rejecting any need for federal approval, HB2807 would set the stage to thwart the federal hemp ban in practice. West Virginia 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 West Virginia 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 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. The experience in these states shows some growers will willingly take the risk and defy federal law, knowing the likelihood of prosecution remains extremely low. 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!”.

HB2807 represents an essential first step toward hemp freedom in the state of West Virginia.