The prospects for industrial hemp in Missouri are looking up this year.
Missouri Senators advanced a bill Tuesday that would create a pilot program in the state to study the growth, cultivation, processing and marketing of industrial hemp in cooperation with Missouri’s Department of Agriculture.
Members of the General Assembly has been working on pilot programs for the growth and research of industrial hemp for three years. Lawmakers in the Missouri House introduced such pilot programs in 2016 and 2017, but they have never made it through the Senate.
Hemp is used in a variety of everyday products such as lotions, oils, clothes and other materials. Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, the bill’s sponsor, said Missouri used to be one of the world’s largest providers of hemp.
Multiple senators expressed support for the bill, believing it could lead to economic growth.
"I hope it gets across the finish line because, again, I don’t think individuals are paying attention to the economic impact and the positives that this bill will have on the state of Missouri," Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said.
Any prospective hemp grower would need to apply for a permit and pay an application fee to farm hemp. Anyone convicted of a drug-related felony in the past five years would not qualify for this permit.
Prospective hemp growers would not be allowed to farm less than 10 acres worth of hemp plants and would not be able to farm more than forty acres worth.
Munzlinger said this is because the program is research driven.
"I don’t want the backyard gardens raising industrial hemp. This is an agricultural crop, and that’s what it’s intended to be," Munzlinger said.
The bill allows institutions of higher education to work with the Department of Agriculture to participate in the pilot program, but their plots of industrial hemp plants would be limited to 20 acres.
Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Springs, expanded the bill to allow for there to be 2,000 total acres of industrial hemp across the state. Originally, Eigel’s amendment allowed up to 200 acres of hemp cultivation per grower. After some senators expressed concern on that large of an expansion, Eigel rescinded that section of the amendment.
In the past, critics have raised concerns about legalizing marijuana. One of the primary differences between marijuana and industrial hemp is the level of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, that is known for the high it gives marijuana users.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, industrial hemp does not exceed a THC level of 0.3 percent. Marijuana can have levels of THC as high as 20 percent. The bill allows the Department of Agriculture to inspect a participant’s hemp crop at any time during its growth. Any hemp crop that contains a THC concentration greater than 0.3 percent would be destroyed.
Munzlinger added, "You don’t want marijuana growing close to this crop because they cross pollinate and each one will ruin the other. So actually I guess what I got is a marijuana eradication bill."
The Senate will now need to pass the bill on a third reading before the Missouri House of Representatives can hear it.