West Virginia House bill would authorize commercial farming and production of industrial hemp

CHARLESON, W.V. (Feb. 24, 2015) – A West Virginia bill would expand on the state's current law authorizing industrial hemp farming for research purposes to include commercial farming and production as well. Once put into effect, it would effectively reject in practice the federal prohibition on the same.

Introduced by State Rep. Jeff Eldridge and 5 cosponsors, House Bill 2807 (HB2807) would open up the industrial hemp market in West Virginia if successfully passed.

Last year, a law was passed that authorized only the Department of Agriculture and state institutions of higher learning to cultivate industrial hemp for "research purposes," as allowed under current federal law.

HB2807 expands on this by expressly authorizing a commercial industrial hemp market for the state. It reads, in part, "An individual licensed under this section is presumed to be growing industrial hemp for commercial purposes."

West Virginia has the opportunity to join five other states – Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vermont – that have already passed similar measures. Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, rejecting federal restrictions on such 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 who hopes to plant 25 acres this spring. The Tennessee Agricultural department recently put out a call for licensing, signaling that hemp farming will start soon there too.

Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $500 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!”.

The federal government's tune has changed drastically over the years. Since the enactment of the unconstitutional federal controlled-substances act in 1970, the Drug Enforcement Agency has prevented the production of hemp within the United States. Many hemp supporters feel that the DEA has been used as an “attack dog” of sorts to prevent competition with major industries where American-grown hemp products would create serious market competition: Cotton, Paper/Lumber, Oil, and others.

Earlier 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 new “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.

HB2807 goes a step further than what is currently ‘allowed’ by the feds by authorizing widespread development of industrial hemp. 

The bill must pass through the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee successfully before it can receive a vote in the full state house.