According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. remains the only developed nation that hasn’t developed an industrial hemp crop for economic purposes. But, thanks to efforts in the states, that’s starting to change.
There are three versions of hemp legislation that are being used successfully in states right now. Which one to choose is more of a strategic consideration than anything else.
TAKE ACTION: Contact your state rep AND senator – give them the three versions below (you can download each as pdf), and urge them to introduce the best one for your state. Find your legislators’ contact info at this link.
2015 Status Report
Industrial hemp falls under the federal Controlled Substance Act of 1970. It technically remains “legal” to grow the plant, but farmers must obtain a permit from the DEA. Up until 2014, that happened just once in over four decades. However, the feds loosened requirements when Congress passed a law allowing limited hemp production for research purposes by colleges and universities, and state agriculture departments.
It’s important to note that all commercial production remains banned under federal law. For all practical purposes, the feds still maintain a policy of full prohibition.
But states are taking action to nullify that prohibition in practice.
This year, a bill was signed into law in North Dakota that legalizes hemp farming within the state. The new law not only sets up the framework to effectuate a commercial hemp farming program in North Dakota, it expressly rejects any need for federal approval before growing hemp in the state. By rejecting the need for federal approval, the new law nullifies the federal ban in practice.
In a move that will have a similar effect, the Maine legislature overrode the governor’s veto and passed LD4. This amends the current state hemp farming law by removing a requirement that licenses are contingent on approval by the Federal Government.
Connecticut joined North Dakota and Maine, but took a slightly different approach. Passage of HB5780 into law removed any mention of industrial hemp from the Connecticut criminal code that classifies marijuana as a banned controlled substance. This means Connecticut authorities will essentially treat industrial hemp like other plants, such as tomatoes. By removing the state prohibition on hemp, residents of Connecticut will have an open door to start industrial farming should they be willing to risk violating the ongoing federal prohibition.
In 2013, Vermont passed a hemp act that was very similar to the new Connecticut law, practically speaking. When Governor Peter Shumlin signed the bill, he emphasized that hemp cultivation was still illegal under federal law.
Despite the threat of federal prosecution, several farmers took the risk and planted small hemp plots that very first year. And the industry appears to be moving forward in 2015. As of last spring, one plot in Vermont already had over 1,000 plants in the ground. Other farmers are moving forward with planting and harvesting as well.
Oregon legalized hemp farming in 2009, but bureaucracy prevented crops from being planted. Finally in 2014, Oregon voters approved Measure 91, authorizing the production of and commerce in industrial hemp. The state then created a framework, and it has issued 13 permits to growers.
All of that was threatened last spring by legislation that would have essentially halted development of the state’s industrial hemp industry. Had it passed, the state would have revoked the 13 permits issued this year and then directed the state to reissue them with stricter guidelines, or not at all.
Passage of the bill would have required the destruction of at least one hemp field due to its proximity to a school. But the state legislature struck down the proposed law, allowing hemp to continue growing in the state. In August, the Agriculture Department stopped issuing permits as it studies ways to refine regulations, but that does not impact current permit holders.
Hemp production continues to expand in other states that legalized the crop over the last two years.
Farmers began growing hemp in southeast Colorado back in 2013 and the industry is beginning to mature.
Plants are also in the ground in South Carolina after Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill into law authorizing cultivation and production of industrial hemp within the state last year.
The South Carolina Law doesn’t include a mandate that the state start issuing licenses to grow and produce hemp. Introduced last winter, S559 would expand on the 2014 state law legalizing industrial hemp by creating the needed mechanisms to put the law into further effect.
In 2014, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill that some supporters at the time considered the strongest pro-hemp legislation in the country. Since then, 46 farmers have received hemp seeds through a pilot research program offered by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. It remains unclear how many, if any, growers have planted crops for commercial purposes, but inside sources tell us that many of the farmers plan on selling their hemp rather than just studying it.
Kentucky was once the leading hemp producer in the United States. The state legislature legalized hemp for research purposes under the federal guidelines last year, and several crops are in the ground. The state has a highly organized pro-hemp coalition and several industries chomping at the bit for a commercial crop, including an energy company in eastern Kentucky that has developed a process to combine hemp and coal for a clean burning “green” fuel. With such strong support behind hemp farming, the legislature should take the next step and legalize hemp for commercial purposes and nullify the federal ban in effect.
Kentucky isn’t the only state ripe for the hemp industry and a practical nullification of the federal ban. In several states, hemp bills are already active for 2016. An Alaska bill would legalize hemp farming. In Washington, Wisconsin and Rhode Island, legislation would legalize hemp for farming, commerce and production.
In states that have already legalized hemp production, farmers and entrepreneurs should take advantage of state law and develop the industry within their state. That means planting crops and developing the means to process it. Each successful farming operation will inevitably lead to more in the future.
As more people and more states ignore the federal prohibition, it will become nearly impossible to enforce.