OLYMPIA, Wa., Feb. 6, 2015 – By a unanimous 49-0 vote this week, the Washington state Senate approved a bill that would authorize the farming, production, and sale of industrial hemp in the state, effectively nullifying the federal prohibition on the same once put into effect.
Senate Bill 5012 (SB5012) was co-sponsored by State Sens. Brian Hatfield (D-District 19) and Jim Honeyford (R-District 15) and would open up the industrial hemp market in Washington state if successfully passed. It states unequivocally that “industrial hemp is an agricultural product that may be grown, produced, possessed, and commercially traded in the state.” This opens the door for an industrial hemp market to spring up after SB5012 becomes law.
In addition, SB5012 authorizes research into the viability of industrial hemp as well. The bill states that “Washington State University shall study the feasibility and desirability of industrial hemp production in Washington” and “shall gather information from agricultural and scientific literature, consult with experts and the public, and review the best practices of other states and countries worldwide regarding the development of markets for industrial hemp and hemp products.”
A similar bill has also been introduced in the state House. HB1552, sponsored by Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) is considered by supporters to be a stronger bill because it not only would make industrial hemp an “agricultural product” as in SB5012, but also includes the needed steps to effectuate this policy. In short, SB5012 will potentially need follow-up legislation before it comes into effect while HB1552 covers that follow up immediately.
Either way, Washington has the opportunity to join five other states – Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vermont – that have already passed similar measures. 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.
Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $500 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!”.
But, since the enactment of the unconstitutional federal controlled-substances act in 1970, the Drug Enforcement Agency has 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: Cotton, Paper/Lumber, Oil, and others.
Earlier 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 new “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.
SB5012 follows up on the farm bill’s authorization for state-level hemp research, but goes a step further by authorizing industrial development of the crop as well. This is an essential first step forward, and will likely need to be followed by additional legislation implementing the program, unless – like in Colorado and Vermont – courageous farmers start growing industrial hemp without further authorization.
The bill now moves to the House Commerce and Gaming Committee, where it needs to pass by majority vote before the full House can consider it.
EDIT – This post has been updated to reflect the final vote of 49-0, not 47-0
For Washington: Follow all the steps to support this bill at THIS LINK
For All Other States: Take action in your state to push legislators to introduce and support bills to legalize hemp farming by clicking HERE.