BOSTON, Mass. (April 14, 2017) – A bill introduced in the Massachusetts House would create a licensing program for the production and processing of industrial hemp for commercial purposes in the state, rejecting the unconstitutional federal prohibition of the same.
Rep. Chris Walsh (D-Middlesex) presented House Bill 3507 (H.3507) earlier this year. The legislation would create a licensing program for the production of industrial hemp for research purposes and “commercial purposes which are deemed reasonable by the commissioner.”
Massachusetts voters legalized industrial hemp, along with marijuana, in a referendum last November. Language in the referendum legalized industrial hemp and removed all criminal penalties for cultivating it in the state.
Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, except as otherwise provided in this chapter, a person 21 years of age or older shall not be arrested, prosecuted, penalized, sanctioned or disqualified and is not subject to seizure or forfeiture of assets for possessing, producing, processing, manufacturing, purchasing, obtaining, selling or otherwise transferring or delivering hemp.
The referendum also authorized the state to regulate hemp production.
H.3507 would create a licensing an regulatory scheme for the production of industrial hemp. The legislation gives wide latitude to the Department of Agricultural Resources to create rules and licensing requirements relating to hemp. How the program would work practically speaking would depend on departmental rule-making.
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. H.3507 ignores federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.
When Massachusetts voters decriminalized industrial hemp, it set the stage to nullify the federal hemp ban in practice. The creation of a licensing program may serve to jump-start a hemp industry in the state. Massachusetts joints with other states, Including Colorado, Oregon, Maine, 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 Massachusetts 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!”
H.3507 was referred to the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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