In the just completed legislative session, Missouri’s General Assembly heard two bills relating to industrial hemp. They were House Bill 830 and Senate Bill 255. In recent years, legislators in several states have moved to promote the re-introduction of industrial hemp production and cultivation across our nation. Twenty-two states have enacted statutes concerning the growing and use of industrial hemp. Generally, the statutes have taken the approach of establishing commercial industrial hemp programs by utilizing research and conducting studies. Typically these studies are done at various universities or state departments of agriculture. Most of the statutes that established industrial hemp programs will require a change in the federal law or waivers from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) before any long range state programs can be implemented. States that enacted hemp laws have specified that any provision in their statutes do not become operational unless authorized by federal law. However, there is a provision in the 2014 federal farm bill that opened the door for state departments of agriculture to begin research and limited cultivation of industrial hemp, a product that offers numerous potential uses, unlike many other crops.
Industrial hemp has the potential to again become an important crop in Missouri that may benefit the economy as well as the environment. Hemp can be grown in most climates and on most farmland with moderate water and fertilizer requirements and with no pesticides or herbicides needed. It is a beneficial crop and, as a legume, it puts nitrogen back into the soil. Yields can reach from 5 to 7 tons of dry stalks per acre, with stalks reaching upwards from 7 to 12 feet in height. There are myriad uses for hemp in manufacturing. Food additives, fuel, fabric, plastics, construction materials, insulation, textiles, and paper are a few of the estimated 25,000 different uses of the product. It is noted that one acre of hemp can produce four times more paper than one acre of trees, and it is better quality and saves trees. Even with all these possibilities and benefits, one has to wonder why there are so many restrictions on industrial hemp.
Federal law classifies industrial hemp as “cannabis” and as a Schedule 1 drug under the Federally Controlled Substances Act. To grow industrial hemp legally, one must have DEA permission, securely fenced off the field (use razor wire as further security), and have dogs, guards, and lights for added protection. Furthermore, farmers wishing to grow the product cannot conduct their business at an FDIC insured bank. This could jeopardize an entire farming operation because most farmers must rely on the banking industry for temporary funding in order to put in crops. Obviously these requirements make the growing of industrial hemp entirely too cost prohibitive for farmers. In past times, industrial hemp was grown commercially in the U.S., but was doomed by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, an act that placed an extremely high tax on the product and made it nearly impossible for the average producer to grow. With the exception of the WWII years when growing hemp was encouraged because of the need for its fibers to make rope and other products, industrial hemp production has been severely restricted since the 1950s. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (they became DEA) placed hemp in the same category as marijuana, where it remains to this day. Yet in no way does an endorsement of legalizing industrial hemp an endorsement of legalizing marijuana.
The U.S. government does not distinguish between marijuana and non-psychoactive cannabis that is used for industrial and commercial purposes. We are the only industrialized nation that has outlawed the farming of hemp, but we are the largest importer of it in the world, importing from Canada, China, and France. Both industrial hemp and marijuana are classified by taxonomists as cannabis c sativa, a species with many variables. It is actually a member of the mulberry family and has a very low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), while marijuana is very high in THC—the cause of the “high.”
Neither of the two bills dealing with industrial hemp made it through the legislative process this year, but the issue will be back next year and the legislature will deal with it at that time. Regardless, the main obstacle to producing industrial hemp in Missouri or anywhere else in the nation rests with the federal regulations. Until there is a change in federal law, the hands of any willing producer are tied—and not with a hemp rope.