The state House wants to give Missouri farmers a chance to enter a new market. It has passed a bill that would legalize the growing of industrial hemp.
Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant with a low concentration of THC, the psychoactive component found in marijuana. It can be used to make products including paper, clothing, and biodegradable plastics.
House Bill 170, sponsored by Washington Republican Paul Curtman, would allow the Department of Agriculture to issue a permit to growers who pass a background check, have not been found guilty of a felony in the previous ten years, and have never been convicted of a drug-related offense. The Department can also inspect growers and handlers for compliance, and inspect crops to make sure nothing illegal is being grown.
“We have manufacturers in our state who use industrial hemp as a raw material in their manufacturing goods, however because it’s illegal to grow in Missouri they have to spend Missouri dollars in the economies of other states and other countries because they can’t spend the Missouri dollars in Missouri to buy this raw material from Missouri farmers,” said Curtman.
Curtman and other supporters emphasized the bill is in no way related to attempts to legalize marijuana. He noted the concentration of THC is so low that if anyone tries to smoke it, “they’re just going to get a headache, they’re going to throw up, and they’re going to regret it for the rest of their life.”
Some representatives disagreed. Dexter Republican Tila Hubrect argued the small amounts of THC found in hemp can cause “intoxication.” She also said hemp and marijuana plants are “indistinguishable to the eye,” so allowing the farming of hemp could complicate law enforcement efforts.
Carrollton Republican Joe Don McGaugh said the federal farm bill allows the growing of hemp by universities and colleges and state agriculture departments for research, unlike what Curtman is proposing.
“I support industrial hemp. I want there to be research in industrial hemp. Why would I not? Why would we not want another market for our farmers?” McGaugh asked. “I just think we need to do it right.”
The bill had broad, bipartisan support, passing 126-26. Similar legislation has been passed out of the House in several previous years, and St. Louis City Democrat Michael Butler said he’s supported it every time.
St. Louis City Democrat Bob Burns also wanted the bill to advance.
“I believe we are people with entrepreneurial spirit, and if 31 other states are doing this I don’t think we have to reinvent the wheel to create jobs right here in Missouri, and we don’t have to write every Nth degree of this law. You’re just trying to give people an opportunity to explore it legally,” said Burns.
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.