Thirteen years ago, industrial hemp‘s resemblance to marijuana sank legislation to legalize growing of hemp in Nebraska.
On Tuesday, a bill to allow production and marketing of industrial hemp sailed through first-round debate in the Nebraska Legislature.
Legislative Bill 1001, introduced by State Sen. Norm Wallman of Cortland, advanced on a 32-1 vote.
He said his proposal concerned alternative crops and a potential source of revenue for farmers.
“This bill is no way intended to be a gateway to recreational use” of marijuana, Wallman said. “This bill is about agriculture. It’s really that simple.”
Industrial hemp and marijuana both come from the same plant species, cannabis sativa, but the two are genetically different.
Hemp has very little tetrahydrocannabinol, or TCH, the ingredient that produces the marijuana high.
Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha said hemp contains up to 1 percent of THC, while marijuana contains between 3 percent and 20 percent.
“You’re not going to get a buzz off of this stuff,” he said.
Industrial hemp can be used for a wide variety of industrial and other products, he said.
Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft questioned whether the change represents good policy for the state. She asked if people could use a hemp crop as cover for growing marijuana.
“It’s not like growing cornflakes or corn,” she said.
Wallman, however, said that growing hemp next to marijuana would spoil a marijuana crop. The two would cross-pollinate, reducing the amount of THC in the marijuana.
He compared the effect to planting sweet corn, which is used as a vegetable, next to feed corn, which is used for ethanol and animal feed.
Nebraska would not be the first state to allow growing of industrial hemp. At least nine states allow cultivation and research.
Others are likely to look at hemp because the new federal farm bill allows state agriculture departments and universities to research the crop, Wallman said.
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