Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were farmers who grew various crops, including hemp.

Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were farmers who grew various crops, including hemp.

It’s said that Jefferson, our third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, penned that document on paper made of hemp, possibly produced at a paper mill owned by Benjamin Franklin.

It’s also said that, in the early American colonies, farmers were required to produce hemp because it had numerous uses and was traded as legal tender. In England, two of the main uses of hemp were for canvas ship sails and ropes.

In the just completed legislative session, Missouri’s General Assembly heard two bills relating to industrial hemp: House Bill 830 and Senate Bill 255. In recent years, legislators in several states have moved to promote the re-introduction of industrial hemp production and cultivation across our nation.

Twenty-two states have enacted statutes concerning the growing and use of industrial hemp. Generally, the statutes have taken the approach of establishing commercial industrial hemp programs by using research and conducting studies. Typically, these studies are done at various universities or state departments of agriculture.

Most of the statutes that established industrial hemp programs will require a change in federal law or waivers from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) before long-range state programs can be implemented. States that enacted hemp laws have specified that any provision in their statutes don’t become operational unless authorized by federal law. However, there is a provision in the 2014 federal farm bill that opened the door for state departments of agriculture to begin research and limited cultivation of industrial hemp, a product that offers numerous potential uses, unlike many other crops.

Industrial hemp has the potential to again become an important crop in Missouri that may benefit the economy and the environment. Hemp can be grown in most climates and on most farmland with moderate water and fertilizer requirements that require no pesticides or herbicides.

It’s a beneficial crop and, as a legume, puts nitrogen back into the soil. Yields can reach from five to seven tons of dry stalks per acre, with stalks reaching upwards of 7 to 12 feet in height.

There are myriad uses for hemp in manufacturing. Food additives, fuel, fabric, plastics, construction materials, insulation, textiles and paper are a few of the estimated 25,000 uses of the product. It’s of note that an acre of hemp can produce four times more paper than an acre of trees, plus, it’s better quality and saves trees. Even with all of the possibilities and benefits, one has to wonder why there are so many restrictions on industrial hemp.

Federal law classifies industrial hemp as “cannabis” and as a Schedule 1 drug under the Federally Controlled Substances Act. To grow industrial hemp legally, one must have DEA permission, securely fence off the field (use razor wire), and have dogs, guards and lights for added protection.

Furthermore, farmers wishing to grow the product cannot conduct business at an FDIC insured bank. This could jeopardize an entire farming operation because most farmers must rely on the banking industry for temporary funding to put in crops.

Obviously, these requirements make the growing of industrial hemp entirely too cost prohibitive for farmers. In past times, industrial hemp was grown commercially in the United States, but was doomed by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, an act that placed an extremely high tax on the product and made it nearly impossible for the average producer to grow.

Industrial hemp and marijuana are classified by taxonomists as cannabis c sativa, a species with many variables. It’s actually a member of the mulberry family and has a very low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), while marijuana is very high in THC — the cause of the “high.”

Neither of the two bills dealing with industrial hemp made it through the legislative process this year, but the issue will be back next year. The legislature will deal with it at that time.

Regardless, the main obstacle to producing industrial hemp in Missouri or anywhere else in the nation rests with federal regulations. Until there is a change in federal law, the hands of any willing producer are tied — and not with a hemp rope.

Bill Reiboldt represents the people of Southwest Missouri in the Missouri House of Representatives.