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Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri House passes industrial hemp bill, but chances in Senate thin

Dozens of cannabis clones grow under high-intensity lights at BeLeaf's growing and processing facility in Earth City, Missouri.
File photo | Joseph Leahy | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri legislators once again are deciding whether to allow industrial hemp, which comes from the same plant as marijuana but lacks the psychoactive compounds, to be grown.

For the third year in a row, the Missouri House passed a bill that would legalize the growing and production of hemp for purposes like soap and rope. But its fate is likely to be the same as before: A slow death in the Senate due to the short time left in the 2017 session and the bill’s low priority for Republicans running the chamber.

The Missouri Farm Bureau also strongly opposes House Bill 170, and sent individual letters to every member of the House before Monday night’s 126-26 vote.

An excerpt from the letter says the measure does not comply with the 2014 federal farm bill:

“The Agriculture Act of 2014 allows for the production of industrial hemp, but only by state departments of agriculture, those licensed by state departments of agriculture to conduct research under an agriculture pilot program, and institutions of higher education. We do not believe the Act permits unrestricted production of industrial hemp by any individual licensed by a state department of agriculture.”


But GOP bill sponsor Rep. Paul Curtman of Pacific said his bill meets the requirement of being classified as a pilot program.


“The memo that they put out was written by a bunch of bitter bureaucrats at the federal level who are upset that the U.S. Congress, in a stroke of constitutional righteousness, took something and turned it all the way back over to the states for the states to promulgate their own rules,” he said.

Industrial hemp production is legal in 31 states, including Illinois.

The few House members argued that legalizing hemp would complicate drug enforcement efforts. Hemp is the same species of plant as marijuana, but lacks the psychoactive compounds. However, it can be used to make cannabis oil, which is legal in Missouri to treat certain epileptic conditions.

“The hemp is still the cannabis plant, and there’s THC in every part of the cannabis plant,” said Rep. TilaHubrecht, R-Dexter. “Even small amounts can cause intoxication.”

She also claimed hemp fields can be used to hide illegal marijuana production, which fellow Republican Jay Barnes of Jefferson City balked at.

“Only an absolute idiot would go get a license to grow this, and then risk all of their capital and their freedom to do something, knowing they’re going to be monitored the whole time,” he said.

But hemp’s close relation to marijuana remains an obstacle in the Senate, according to Republican Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph who is sponsoring one of two hemp-legalization bills.

“When there are senators who believe that anything that has to do with a marijuana plant is bad, and they’re reticent to change their views, they’re not going to give in,” he said. “I wish that they would, but I don’t see it happening.”

Republican Sen. Brian Munzlinger of Williamstown sponsored the other Senate hemp bill, which has received a public hearing, thanks mostly to his also chairing that chamber’s agriculture committee. But he admits that its chances for passage are slim.

“It looks like everything is taking a long time on the Senate floor, and I don’t know if it’s a real priority of leadership to get it through.”

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:@MarshallGReport

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