Texas House votes to legalize farming of industrial hemp

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The Texas House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill on April 24 that would allow farmers in the state to legally grow industrial hemp—a move lauded as a win for the state’s farmers. It now heads to the Senate.

Hemp is a cousin of the marijuana plant, but it contains low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive element in marijuana known as THC. While hemp-based products that contain no THC—such as clothing and twine, protein powder, moisturizers and essential oils—are legal in the state, the plant cannot be legally grown here, and Texas businesses often have to source it from other states.

“There’s no good reason for Texas farmers and ranchers not to have hemp as a crop option,” said Gene Hall, a spokesman for the Texas Farm Bureau. “I suspect a lot of farmers will choose this option once it’s available. It’s a drought-tolerant crop and can be grown anywhere where cropping is prevalent right now.”

House Bill 1325 from state Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, would also legalize hemp and hemp-derived extracts, such as CBD oil, as long as they contain no more than 0.3% THC. Should King’s bill become law, marijuana would still be illegal.

King’s bill would also remove hemp from the state’s controlled substance list—where it is still listed as a criminal substance—and set up a farming program outlining guidelines for cultivating the plant.

“HB 1325 is right-to-farm legislation that will allow Texas farmers the opportunity to cultivate a drought-resistant cash crop—that being hemp,” King told other House members.

More than 40 other states have legalized hemp production, but bills to do so in Texas have failed in past legislative sessions. King previously said he was optimistic about his bill’s passage because Congress passed the Farm Bill last year, legalizing hemp that contains no more than 0.3% THC at the federal level.

When laying out his bill in front of the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee earlier this month, King touted his bill as good for Texas farmers because hemp is one of the most versatile crops on the market.

It’s unclear how much money hemp will bring to Texas if farmers are allowed to grow it. But during that hearing, Jeff Lake, who works with a company that partakes in Kentucky’s industrial hemp research pilot program, told the panel of lawmakers that his company, Elemental Processing, pays from $3,000 to $5,000, plus a bonus, for an acre of hemp, compared with $350 to $400 for an acre of corn in a good year.

If King’s bill becomes law, the Texas Department of Agriculture will enact regulations to govern a hemp program, which would need to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval. Those regulations would include a licensing process for farmers wanting to grow the plant.

To create the state’s guidelines, the Texas agency said it is looking to other states that already have industrial hemp programs.

King’s bill has the backing of top Republican leaders, such as Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who said in a statement to The Texas Tribune he “will support any bill that helps Texas agriculture.”

“Allowing the Texas Department of Agriculture to create an industrial hemp program here in Texas will give Texas farmers an exciting new opportunity to thrive—and that’s something everyone should get behind.” Miller said. “It is all about Texas farmers and ranchers and seeing them prosper.”

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