Tennessee farmers poised to start hemp production

By Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

State lawmakers have signed off on legislation, Senate Bill 2495/House Bill 2445, to reclassify and regulate industrial hemp.

The legislation now goes to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature.

The measures reclassify cannabis possessing less than 0.3 percent THC as an industrial crop rather than a controlled substance. The legislation calls on the state Department of Agriculture to develop rules and regulations governing the licensed production of industrial hemp by Tennessee farmers. Regulators have up to 120 days following the bill’s passage to enact these licensing guidelines.

Lawmakers in Indiana and Utah previously enacted legislation earlier this year authorizing state regulators to oversee the cultivation of industrial hemp for commercial and/or research purposes.

industrial-hemp-farming-bill-obamaAccording to the Congressional Resource Service, the US is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop. However, in February, members of Congress for the first time approved language in the omnibus federal Farm Bill allowing for the cultivation of industrial hemp in agricultural pilot programs in states that already permit the growth and cultivation of the plant. Ten additional states — California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia — have enacted legislation allowing for industrial hemp research and/or reclassifying the plant as an agricultural commodity under state law.

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Tennessee farmers are a signature away from growing industrial hemp after a bill allowing it sailed through the state Senate this afternoon.

That’s not to be confused with marijuana — hemp’s psychoactive cousin. Hemp is the stuff of shoes, rope, paper and plastics. Health-food enthusiasts eat its seeds for protein and omega-3 fats. All are money-making products that prompted Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, to champion growing it here. At least nine other states have industrial hemp laws.

The bill passed after amendments defining industrial hemp and requiring the Department of Agriculture to start writing rules 120 days after passage. It now will go to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature.

When Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey opened the floor for Niceley to discuss his bill, the senator merely moved for passage, which he got: 29 ayes, 0 nays.

“I figured this one you’d want to talk about,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said, drawing chuckles from legislators.

Other than the governor’s signature, another hurdle is U.S. policy, which basically treats hemp as a controlled substance. States that remove hemp bans will be closer to capitalizing on the crop if the federal government reconsiders its stance, said Tom Murphy, spokesman for the national Vote Hemp group.


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