CHARLESTON, W.V. – March 8, 2014.The West Virginia Senate backed down on a bill that would legalize hemp production in the state, instead passing an amended version of the bill allowing only research as permitted by the federal government

The Senate unanimously passed the amended version of HB3011.

The House had a chance to reject that amendment and force a conference on the two versions of the bill, but voted to approve the Senate version, essentially killing the intent of the original bill.

HB3011 was introduced in January by Del. Mike Mannypenny (D – Taylor, 49), along with four co-sponsors.

Mannypenny’s original bill easily passed the House (vote of 88-8)  and was intended to “remove the provision that requires an applicant to meet federal requirements concerning the production, distribution and sale of industrial hemp prior to being licensed to grow hemp for industrial purposes in the state.” It would have legalized hemp production, nullifying the federal prohibition on the crop.

Recall last month, 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 new federal “hemp amendment”

…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oilseed 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 it’s amended form the “hemp freedom” bill is redefined to allow hemp cultivation as outlined in the farm bill, and little more.

The amended bill does move the ball forward one step. And the debate brought attention to the issue. The initial House vote indicates that strong support for hemp farming exists in West Virginia. Lawmakers need to seize the momentum next legislative session and and pass a bill with the original intent of HB2011.

Experts 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.

Soil, climate and agricultural capabilities could make the United States a massive producer of industrial hemp. Yet, federal law does not allow hemp to be grown for public sale, use and consumption within the United States.

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!

Since the enactment of the federal controlled-substances act in 1970, the Drug Enforcement Agency has actively prevented the production of hemp within the United States. Many hemp supporters feel that the DEA has been used as an “attack dog” of sorts to prevent competition with major industries where American-grown hemp products would create serious market competition with cotton, paper/lumber, oil, and other industries.

Three states have laws on the books removing the necessity for federal approval – Colorado, Oregon and Vermont. Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, effectively nullifying federal restrictions on this agricultural activity. At least eight other states have begun similar legislation.

Tod Damask

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