Hemp, hemp, hooray?

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer has signed Senate Bill 263, which enacts the Alternative Crop Research Act, allowing the Kansas Department of Agriculture to oversee the cultivation of industrial hemp in a research program, it has been reported.

Time will tell whether this is a good thing for Kansas farmers. Certainly, it’s too early for farmers to be jumping for joy.

What is industrial hemp? In a nutshell, it is the marijuana plant without the mood-altering chemical THC – tetrahyrocannabinol.

Can people still dry it out and smoke it like tobacco? Sure, but instead of euphoria, the smoker will probably get a headache.

The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act regulated the cultivation and sale of all cannabis varieties in the United States.

The U.S. Controlled Substance Act of 1970 made it illegal to grow any kind of cannabis in the U.S.

KDA has now begun the process of developing rules and regulations to guide the Alternative Crop Research Act, which will include an open dialogue and information exchange at a public forum in May. That should be interesting.

Individuals who are interested in participating in the industrial hemp research program are invited to attend a session at the public forum on May 11, 2018, at the KDA office at 1320 Research Park Dr. in Manhattan.

Three separate two-hour sessions will be held for public comment. Participation for each session is limited to 50. 

During the public input portion of the sessions, participants will be limited to three minutes of comments. All participants must preregister for one session at https://fs22.formsite.com/KansasDeptAg/IndustrialHemp/index.html.

The public forum sessions will provide an overview of the Alternative Crop Research Act, including the legal parameters set within the bill, and the procedures that will guide development of the rules and regulations.

Guest speakers will include Brent Burchett, the director of the plant division from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, and Mitch Yergert, retired director of the division of plant industry from the Colorado State Department of Agriculture. The sessions will include time for questions and feedback from attendees.

The new state legislation requires that the rules and regulations to acquire a license and otherwise carry out the provisions of the Alternative Crop Research Act be completed on or before Dec. 31.. 

Research projects involving industrial hemp may vary, and applications for pilot projects and research proposals must be approved prior to licensure.

The opportunity to grow a new specialty oilseed crop in Kansas reportedly offers potential for diversification for Kansas farmers looking for an alternative crop, or for new farming enterprises interested in cultivating industrial hemp, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

The Kansas agriculture industry has developed a statewide strategic growth plan in recent years, and is committed to pursuing new and innovative opportunities to grow agriculture. 

The research generated by participants of this new industrial hemp program will be valuable data in identifying the growth potential offered in this sector.

The 2014 Farm Bill included a section to allow for universities and state departments of agriculture to begin cultivating industrial hemp for purposes of research, provided that the growing and cultivating of industrial hemp is allowed under state law.

Scientifically, industrial hemp is defined by SB 263 as all parts and varieties of the plant Cannabis sativa L. that contain a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of no more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.

Ed Klumpp, legislative liaison for three Kansas law enforcement organizations, said in January that the associations were “cautiously withholding opposition” to the Senate bill. 

In 2017, Klumpp said the House bill was opposed by the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, Kansas Sheriff’s Association and the Kansas Peace Officers Association.

He suggested that the Senate measure should be altered to mandate program participants or anyone with a financial interest in the program undergo a criminal background check.

Individuals engaged in possession or transporting the industrial hemp should be licensed by the state, Klumpp said.

“Our decision to withhold opposition could change in future legislative action if these changes are not adopted,” he said.

In the past, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation took issue with the cultivation of industrial hemp complicating the state’s work on criminal investigations into illegal marijuana activity. Indeed, a lot of people can’t tell  the difference between the industrial hemp marijuana plant and the illegal-in-this-state marijuana plant with high THC chemical levels.

The KBI shared frustration with the cost of laboratory testing to differentiate between legal and illegal samples of the plant.

KBI representative Katie Whisman said the Senate’s version of the industrial hemp bill more properly limited the scope of persons who legally could possess and cultivate industrial hemp to individuals involved in research projects.

“We do not have the same concerns about its effects on laboratory testing as we have in past bills,” Whisman said.

However, the Kansas Sierra Club endorsed by the Senate bill as a possible game-changer for Kansas agriculture.

“As a top 10 agriculture state,” said Kansas Sierra Club lobbyist Zack Pistora, “Kansas ought to eliminate the unwarranted governmental barriers for farmers to grow hemp to benefit the state as a whole. Industrial hemp has a variety of uses and can be highly profitable for farmers who may be struggling financially with growing current commodities.”

Pistora said industrial hemp fields would consume less water, fertilizer and pesticide, and the plant was capable of serving as a rotational crop, cover crop or in grass buffer zones to help prevent soil erosion.

Hemp Industries Association reported that hemp was a $620 million business in the U.S. last year with all imported hemp used here.

Hemp is used to make paper, textiles and clothing, biodegradable plastics, construction materals, health foods, biofuel and last but not least, cordage or rope.

With other states passing legislation to legalize marijuana for medicinal use and recreation use, will this ultimately be the legislative action in Kansas that starts that process in this state?

Time will tell in that regard, also, but things are certainly going to get more interesting on the Kansas farm. And fake hemp licenses may become just as popular as fake-21 driver’s licenses at college campuses. 

The Holton Recorder

109 W. Fourth St.
Holton, KS 66436
Phone: 785-364-3141

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