The Tennessee House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Monday to legalize industrial hemp, which is a member of the cannabis plant family currently banned under state law.
Sponsored by Cosby Republican Jeremy Faison, House Bill 2445 directs the state’s Department of Agriculture to set up a licensing program that’ll allow people to legitimately grow the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana. Under the terms of bill, though, anyone who doesn’t obtain a license to grow hemp from the department and gets caught cultivating it on their property would be subject to criminal prosecution for growing marijuana, which remains illegal.
Noting that American farmers had a long history of raising hemp crops for productive commercial uses prior to federal prohibition of the entire plant family in the 20th Century, Faison said that in today’s world it holds great promise both in terms of economic utility and environmentally sustainability, that “there are thousands of uses” for it.
“From the beginning of our country people have used hemp for all kinds of wonderful things,” said Faison. It was so valuable and useful in early American history that people were encouraged to grow as much of it as possible, he said.
Faison also noted that in the recent U.S. Farm Bill, signed by President Obama back in February, permission is granted for states to move forward with legislation to regulate hemp production and allow their universities to study it.
“We are taking it out of the criminal code (and) putting it under the ‘right-to-farm’ section,” said Faison. Tennessee agriculture officials will “promulgate the rules” for farmers to grow it as a cash crop, and colleges like the University of Tennessee, Middle Tennessee State University and East Tennessee State University can grow test plots for research purposes, said Faison.
After the bill passed on an 88-5 vote, Faison handed out products made from hemp to the chamber’s leaders of both parties. Among the items were breakfast cereal, various soaps, cooking oil and twine.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled Tuesday to discuss the upper chamber’s version of the legislation.
The bill’s sponsor, Strawberry Plains Republican Frank Niceley, has said he’s optimistic it’ll ultimately pass, that he’s “not expecting any trouble on it” in the Senate.
“It’s in good shape to ease right on through” to the Senate floor, he said last week. Niceley added that three members of the judiciary committee also serve on the Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and already voted in favor of the hemp legislation when it passed that committee March 12.