Both the Tennessee Senate and House have agreed on a change in state law that would legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp.
The legislation, sponsored by Republicans Frank Niceley in the Senate and Jeremy Faison in the House, directs the state Department of Agriculture to develop a system for licensing farmers who want to grow strains and varieties of the cannabis plant family that contain no more than trace amounts of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive element in marijuana that produces an intoxicating effect. The bill alters state law so that low- or no-THC producing cannabis plants are no longer considered a controlled substance, provided growers have received permission to raise a crop from state government agriculture officials.
The final version passed the Senate Wednesday, 28-0. It passed in the House 88-5 on March 31.
According to the language of the bill, hemp is defined as “the plants and plant parts of the genera cannabis that do not contain a…(THC) concentration more than three-tenths of one percent (0.3 percent) on a dry mass basis, grown from seed certified by a certifying agency.”
Some confusion and debate arose among lawmakers in the House over the wording in a version passed earlier by the Senate that some Democrats believed gave law enforcement too much latitude to prosecute people as marijuana growers if they didn’t first obtain a license from the Department of Agriculture.
However, the bill as passed now in both chambers still includes language stating that “(i)n order to obtain an industrial hemp license, the grower shall agree that the department has the right to inspect the hemp crop for compliance.” The bill also states, “If a grower fails to obtain a license, the crop will be considered marijuana under (state law).”
Niceley called the win for hemp “a great start.”
“It will probabaly be the next planting season, 2015, before we have anybody growing it in Tennessee, but we’ve gotten started,” he said following Wednesday’s Senate vote.
Niceley said he expects that once the Department of Ag’s licensing program is established and people start growing hemp it will take a while to attract processors to the state to develop products using the plants fibers, oils and textile-making properties. On the other hand, Niceley said he expects markets to start developing immediately for Tennessee-grown hemp-seed foods.
“That’s the easiest and the quickest to raise,” he said. “The hemp seed has the best balance of amino acids of any seed in the plant world, and a lot of vegetarians and vegans depend on seeds to get their amino acids.”
Niceley said he was surprised at how quickly the idea of legalizing hemp caught on in the Legislature this year.
“When you pass a bill that has members applauding afterward, you know you’ve done something,” he said. “I like passing bills that increase people’s freedom and don’t cost the taxpayers anything.”