JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A crop that can be used to make rope, clothes, food, paper, textiles, plastics, insulation, biofuel and more currently cannot be grown in Missouri.
And Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, is trying — for the third time — to fix that.
“This is one of the oldest crops known to man,” Munzlinger said. The Constitution was printed on hemp paper, money use to be printed on hemp paper, because of the durability of hemp fiber, according to Munzlinger.
The bill heard before the Senate Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee on Monday would establish an industrial hemp pilot program, which would allow the state to issue licenses for industrial hemp cultivation and processing and allow the products to be marketed.
Currently 34 states, including Nebraska, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas — five of the eight states that border Missouri — allow the cultivation of hemp for commercial, research or pilot programs.
“It’s time for Missouri to get on board,” Dan Erdel, a farmer who manages 3,200 acres, said. “Look at it from the farm ascept and what it can do for our farmers.”
In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act strictly regulated the cultivation and sale of all cannabis varieties. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified all forms of cannabis — including hemp — as a Schedule I drug, making it illegal to grow it in the United States.
Hemp and marijuana come from the same cannabis species, Cannabis sativa, but are from different subspecies making them “scientifically and genetically different.” Industrial hemp — which has less than .3 percent THC — is non-psychoactive, which means it is unable to intoxicate the user, and specially breed for fiber and oil use.
The fact that hemp and marijuana derive from the same species allows cross-pollination, however cross-pollination renders both crops essentially useless. This has led states with legalized marijuana to create “buffer zones” between industrial hemp and marijuana.
“I call this the marijuana eradication program,” Munzlinger joked, referring to the lack of buffer zone in the bill.
Senate Bill 547 takes advantage of a provision within the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill that allows states to pass their own legislation regarding industrial hemp and Munzlinger believes that the 2018 Farm Bill will allow for the furthering the industrial hemp industry.
Under the legislation introduced applications are subject to a fingerprint background check; registered growers and processors are subject to inspections; allows an institution of higher education, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, to engage in the study of the growth, cultivation, or marketing of industrial hemp and seed; and exempts from food that contains industrial hemp from being considered adulterated. The bill also establishes a plant monitoring system.
“It is in complete compliance with federal law,” Courtney Moran, with EARTH Law, said. Which was one of the concerns a representative from the Missouri Farm Bureau brought up.
“We’ve never been against industrial hemp,” BJ Tanksley said, but he did want to make sure that in a tight budget situation the bill wouldn’t hinder the Department of Agriculture from doing their many tasks.
“Cost of the permits should cover costs to the department,” Munzlinger said.
Those that spoke in favor of the bill stressed the the benefit to Missouri.
“This is a highly profitable crop,” Erdel said. On Wednesday, he talked with a Kentucky industrial hemp farmer who nets $600 an acre after all expenses.
Industrial hemp is an annual crop that requires very little fertilizer, out grows most weeds and can grow in less than desirable conditions. Munzlinger predictions with Missouri’s “very diverse topographical landscape” industrial hemp will do do in the state.
“At one time, Missouri was one of the largest hemp producing states in the U.S.,” according to one person who testified in favor of the bill.
Currently, Kentucky has taken the lead on industrial hemp — a crop that is harvested similarly to hay — and Missouri could be a major player.
“Many farmers would like to be able to dig into this potential crop,” Hyatt Bangert, co-founder of the Midwest Industrial Hemp Association, said. He also stated the economic impact would be worth billions to the state.
Industrial hemp is a multifaceted crop. It can be used to make paper, textiles, construction materials. Hemp oil can be used in livestock feed where it has been shown to hence conversion rates and efficiency, which means it can help “offset costs for cattle producers.”
The common theme among the testimony in favor of creating this industrial hemp pilot program was that it will be beneficial to farmers, to the economy and that it will create jobs and industry.
“Hemp can restore rural located manufacturing in the state, bringing jobs,” Bangert said. The manufacturing jobs he was talking about, refers to the creation of processing plants where the fiber would be seperated from the core of the hemp plant and then processed into material that can be made into other products.
“This has been three years in the making,” Munzlinger said in closing. The committee took no action on the bill, preferring to wait a week after hearing testimony on legislation.
This story originally appeared on The Missouri Times.