JUNEAU, Alaska (April 1, 2016) – An Alaska Senate committee has passed a bill that would effectively legalize growing industrial hemp in the state, taking a step toward nullifying federal prohibition.

Sen. Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage) introduced Senate Bill 8 (SB8) last year. As introduced, the legislation would have removed hemp from the state’s list of controlled substances and created a licensing program regulating the growth, processing, and sale of industrial hemp in Alaska.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a substitute bill by a vote of 3-0. The amended bill removes hemp from the controlled substance list, and authorizes growing, harvesting, processing and possessing the plant without a license.

The proposed law would make possessing hemp an “affirmative defense” for anybody charged with manufacture, delivery, possession, or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance under Alaskan law. In other words, if a defendant proved they were in possession of industrial hemp, they would be innocent of any crime under state law. For all practical purposes, this would remove hemp from the controlled substance list.

The amended version of SB8 would also open the door to grow industrial hemp in the state just like any other crop, without any state regulation.

“An individual manufacturing, delivering, or displaying industrial hemp is not required to apply for licensure or be licensed under this section.”

If SB8 passes into law, the state of Alaska will treat industrial hemp like any other plant, such as tomatoes or lettuce. By removing the state prohibition on the plant, residents of Alaska would have an open door to start industrial hemp farming should they be willing to risk violating ongoing federal prohibition. SB8 is similar to a law passed in Connecticut that went into effect last summer.

The federal government still prohibits the cultivation of industrial hemp in most cases, and it prohibits commercial cultivation of hemp in all cases. By freeing Alaskans from the specter of state prosecution, SB8 would create a foundation for people to nullify the federal ban by introducing hemp production in the state.Just a few farmers willing to take that first step would likely create the momentum necessary to begin the development of a hemp market in Alaska.


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 only, for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited. SB8 ignores federal prohibition and allows commercial farming and production anyway.


Alaska could join a number of other states. including Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Connecticut, Maine, North Dakota and Vermont that have simply ignored federal prohibition and legalized industrial hemp production within state borders. While prospective hemp growers still have to take federal law into consideration, eliminating state prohibition clears away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming.

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 of last year, 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.


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!


SB8 will now move on to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.

Mike Maharrey

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