House votes to allow production, interstate imports of industrial hemp

The Missouri House has again endorsed getting the state into the industrial hemp industry.

Representative Paul Curtman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House voted 141-4 on Thursday in favor of House Bill 2034, which would exempt hemp from state law governing controlled substances and create a pilot program for hemp production.

“Missouri used to be one of the leaders in the growth and the cultivation of industrial hemp.  This is a huge cash crop.  This is not something that people use for narcotic purposes.  This is simply something that people use for manufacturing purposes,” said bill sponsor Paul Curtman (R-Pacific)“This is a substantial step in the direction of economic freedom and also property rights as it relates to what our farmers can and can’t grow or what they choose to grow.”

HB 2034 would also allow Missouri manufacturers to import hemp from other states where it can be grown.  Currently they must get it from other nations because of laws that prohibit transport across state lines.

The bill would allow the cultivation of hemp with less than .3-percent THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis.

That earned the bill support from legislators with a law enforcement background, including Galen Higdon (R-St. Joseph), who is a retired Buchanon County deputy sheriff.  He said it has no value as an illegal drug.

“In our rural areas a lot of what we call ‘ditch weed’ just grows wild, and people from out of state that don’t know this go and harvest that and bag it and sell it and end up getting themselves in trouble with the people they’ve sold it to,” said Higdon.

Representative Allen Andrews (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Higdon said he’s learned that at one time seven different farms grew hemp in his county.

“There was a rope manufacturer, there was a burlap bag manufacturer; and those plants were grown and cut until the federal government banned marijuana throughout the United States,” said Higdon.

During debate several lawmakers raised the question of whether Curtman’s legislation should be tied to legalization of marijuana.  Others, including St. Louis Democrat Deb Lavender, said the topics should be kept separate.

“It is a different plant and I would love to see [hemp] in.  I’m not opposed to [marijuana] either, and I think there’s tremendous financial aspects that the state could benefit from, but for this purpose I think we need to get this up and going for the good of our state, for the good of our farmers,” said Lavender.

Grant City Republican Allen Andrews was one of the four “no” votes on HB 2034.  He said the state Highway Patrol opposes it and said other law enforcement consider hemp as a first step toward legalization of marijuana.

“Our own state Highway Patrol told me two days ago in a meeting that the legalization of industrial hemp will be difficult to police and even more difficult to control, requiring more manpower than is currently available, and will prove to be a detriment from the other patrol safety concerns that they have,” said Andrews.

Curtman said the Patrol is neutral on his legislation.

Farm groups have said that adding industrial hemp to a crop rotation can lead to an increase in yields.  Hemp also grows well in poor soil, including land not suitable for more typical crops such as corn or soybeans.

The bill goes to the Senate where in past years similar legislation has been passed out of a committee but has not been passed by the full chamber.