By Michael Boldin
Today, the Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill to authorize the farming, and production of industrial hemp in the state for commercial purposes, setting the foundation to nullify in practice the unconstitutional federal prohibition on the same. The vote was 98-0.
Introduced by Del. Brenda Pogge (R-Norge), House Bill 699 (HB699) would amend current state law on hemp by removing a provision that authorized the licensing of hemp farming only upon approval of the federal government.
As noted in the impact statement from the Department of Planning and Budget, the bill would also require the Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services to “adopt regulations as necessary to license persons to grow and process industrial hemp for any purpose.” [emphasis added]
Under the Code of Virginia, § 3.2-4113 – as passed into law in 2015 – authorizes the state to issue licenses to farm and produce hemp for research purposes only under the Federal Farm Bill of 2014. If passed into law, HB699 would broaden the scope of hemp in the state to include the commercial “manufacture of industrial hemp products.” The bill also amends § 3.2-4117 – by removing a requirement for federal approval to allow individuals and businesses, rather than research institutions, to be licensed to grow and produce industrial hemp in the state.
If passed, the new law would read, in part:
No person licensed pursuant to § 3.2-4115 or 3.2-4117 shall be prosecuted under § 18.2-247, 18.2-248, 18.2-248.01, 18.2-248.1,18.2-250, or18.2-250.1 for the possession, cultivation or manufacture of industrial hemp plant material and seeds or industrial hemp products
“In short, this would cut the federal government completely out of the state’s hemp policy, as it should be,” said Mike Maharrey of the Tenth Amendment Center. “This is exactly what is already happening in Vermont, Colorado, and other states.”
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.
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. HB699 ignores federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.
By rejecting any need for federal approval, passage of HB699 would set the stage to nullify the federal hemp ban in practice. Virginia would join with 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 their state borders.
While prospective hemp growers would still have to take federal law into consideration, by eliminating the state requirement for federal permission, Virginia Assembly can 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 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.
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!”.
HB699 represents an essential first step toward hemp freedom in the state of Virginia.
“We are Really Proud of this Historic Bill! It allows for Virginia to have the legal framework in place so that hemp businesses and hemp farmers can proceed with business plans and be protected from uncertainty,” said the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition in a statement on Facebook. “This will make Virginia one of the leaders in being “Open for Hemp Business” very soon. It will take 3-5 years to get the hemp industry really up and going and this is yet another great step!”
HB699 now moves to the Senate, where it will first be assigned to a committee for further consideration.
Michael Boldin is the founder of the Tenth Amendment Center where this article first appeared. Follow him on Twitter – @michaelboldin, on LinkedIn, and on Facebook. Image credit to TenthAmendmentCenter.com as well.