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.

House passes bill meant to let Missouri farmers grow hemp

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.

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

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.

“I am, for one, tired of voting ‘yes’ on this bill.  I think it should already be law,” said Butler.

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.