Editors note: This report has been updated to reflect further analysis of the legislation.
AUSTIN, Texas (March 20, 2017) – A bill introduced in the Texas House would legalize the production and processing of industrial hemp in the state, potentially setting the stage to nullify federal prohibition on the plant in practice.
Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) introduced House Bill 3587 (HB3587) on March 9. Under the proposed law, industrial hemp could be treated as an agricultural crop subject to regulation by the Texas Department of Agriculture. The legislation directs the department to set up a licensing and regulation program for industrial hemp production.
“Rules adopted under this chapter must be comparable to similar rules governing the production of other crops.”
The proposed licensing program would be “shall issue,” meaning the Department of Agriculture would be required to issue a license to any person meeting statutory requirements. Without this section, the department could deny applications for a myriad of reasons.
The bill’s language is somewhat vague, and the legislation does not specifically prohibit the Department of Natural Resources from conforming its licensing requirements to federal law. How implementation of HB3587 would play out in practice would depend on department rule-making. According to Sheila Hemphill, policy director of the Texas Hemp Industries Association, the intent of the bill is to create a pilot program compliant with federal law, not to allow widespread hemp farming for commercial purposes.
FEDERAL FARM BILL
Early in 2014, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The “hemp amendment”
…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oil-seed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.
In short, current federal law authorizes the farming of hemp – by research institutions, or within state pilot programs, for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited.
If the Department of Agriculture wrote licensing requirements in such a was as to reject any need for federal approval, HB3587 could the stage to nullify the federal hemp ban in practice. Texas could join with other states – including Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, California and Vermont – that have simply ignored federal prohibition and legalized industrial hemp production within their state borders.
While prospective hemp growers would still have to take federal law into consideration, by eliminating the state requirement for federal permission, the Texas law would clear away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming within the borders of the state.
Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively nullifying federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2, 2105, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group. As more people engage in hemp production and the market grows within these states, more people will become emboldened creating an exponential wave, ultimately nullifying the federal ban in effect.
HUGE MARKET FOR HEMP
According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. is the only developed nation that hasn’t developed an industrial hemp crop for economic purposes.
Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $600 million per year. They count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s #1 importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.
During World War II, the United States military relied heavily on hemp products, which resulted in the famous campaign and government-produced film, “Hemp for Victory!”
HB3587 will be referred to a House committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.