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Texas on track to legalize hemp

A field of hemp waiting to be harvested.

Hemp can be imported and sold in Texas, but it cannot be grown in the Lone Star State. That could be changing this year.

A versatile plant which consumes half the water of cotton while producing 250 percent more fiber, grows in most soil, and is used in over 25,000 products, hemp is legal to cultivate in 21 states. However, only three states currently grow hemp, while the other 18 have research programs. Texas is not one of them.

Once a major crop in the United States, the federal government even made a documentary encouraging farmers to grow hemp before it was made illegal. Due to hemp being in the same family of plant species as marijuana, it was outlawed all the same, even though it does not produce a high like marijuana does.

Two bills have been introduced in this year’s legislative session which would bring the hemp crop back to Texas.

H.B. 557, introduced by Rep. Joe Farias of San Antonio, would allow institutions of higher education to commission the growing of hemp for research purposes. Much like the 18 other states, colleges would attempt to find funding and then have a farming operation grow the hemp for them. However the federal government does not fund hemp studies, which has largely stalled research in other states.

Taking things a step further, H.B. 1322 would make hemp fully legal in Texas and it would be treated just like any other crop. The bill, modeled after legislation in Kentucky, was also introduced by Rep. Farias.

If passed, farmers would have to register with the state and pay $250 for a license, plus $2 per acre and have their crop tested to ensure it does not contain a high amount of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana which produces the high.

Both bills have been referred to the Agriculture & Livestock Committee. Supporters are seeking additional sponsors, especially in the Senate where similar legislation could likely be introduced soon.

Many believe the prospects for seeing hemp legalized in Texas this year are good, including Coleman Hemphill, who says that Texas will miss out on three growing seasons if the state does not act in this session.

Hemphill, who is with the Texas Hemp Industries Association, doesn’t want Texas farmers to fall behind.

The board members of Texas Hemp Industries Association at the state capitol after talking to legislators about the need to legalize hemp in Texas.
The board members of Texas Hemp Industries Association at the state capitol after talking to legislators about the need to legalize hemp in Texas.

“There are already three states growing hemp, there’s federal legislation on the table that is likely to pass, and if Texas does not pass legislation this year, we’ll have to wait until 2017 to legalize hemp, and by that time our farmers will be playing catch-up rather than leading the way.”

Federally, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 (H.R. 525) has been introduced with the help of Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso and has garnered substantial support in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

Hemp has the support of many organizations, most notably Farm Bureau, which voted in January 2014 to officially support hemp legalization measures. It also has the support of the Republican Party of Texas, which included support for hemp in its platform during the 2014 state convention.

Texas imported over $581 million in hemp from Canada in 2013, and Hemphill would prefer that money go to farmers in Texas.

“The market is here, we already make hemp products in Texas, there’s no reason why our farmers shouldn’t be growing this plant. It’s cheaper to grow here” Hemphill states. “Texas was already once a major producer of hemp, especially in Vernon, Harlingen, and the Galveston area” he adds.

Cultivating the plant is similar to growing wheat, which means that farmers would not have to buy new equipment. However, due to special storage needs, new grain bins will have to be built.

Companies are already lining up to process the hemp once farmers begin growing it, which takes about three months.

“Farmers have the potential to make $8,000 per acre from growing hemp” Hemphill says.

The plant serves well as a rotation crop, restoring nutrients to the soil. It will also help farmers who have been experiencing extreme drought conditions since 2010 due to its ability to thrive on very little water.

There have been concerns voiced about marijuana growers potentially hiding their operations within hemp crops, however other states and countries have not had that problem. Though the two plants can look similar, any marijuana planted near a hemp crop will be rendered useless due to cross pollination. Hemp dilutes the THC content of marijuana, effectively destroying it.

The Texas Hemp Industries Association, which is a 501(c)(6) non-profit, says that they want to educate people about hemp and help businesses succeed in the emerging industry.

They’ll be conducting local campaigns and urging local governments to pass resolutions in support of legalizing hemp.

Most recently the organization’s board members traveled to Austin to speak with representatives about the need to legalize hemp.

On March 31, the organization will be showing a documentary about hemp entitled “Bringing It Home” at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. The event will also feature a meet and greet for those interested in getting into the hemp industry.

For more information about the Texas Hemp Industries Association and their upcoming event, visit their website at www.TXHIA.org.

By: Stephen Carter

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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