Tennessean.com – Manufacturers use hemp in plastics, insulation and even a little paper. Health food lovers eat hemp seeds by the handful for the protein and omega-3 fats. Hemp clothes, shoes and handbags sell for top dollar, prized for durability.
But while hemp fields abound in Canada and Europe, only a few acres of the plant are grown in the U.S. Authorities outlawed the crop a half-century ago because of its affiliation with its high-inducing cousin marijuana, even though the industrial variety contains only trace amounts of the psychoactive chemical THC.
Ten states, including Kentucky, have removed barriers to hemp production, and state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, wants to bring it back to Tennessee. He’s drafting a bill that would legalize it here.
The key to success, he said, is educating his lawmaker colleagues about the differences between industrial hemp and marijuana and the financial benefits to farmers.
“Their biggest fear is that, if they support hemp, people will think they support marijuana,” Niceley said. “That’s a cousin of hemp, but cornbread is a cousin of moonshine.”
Some doubt whether hemp can be the job-producing cash crop Niceley envisions. Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said there will be federal hoops to jump through, and farmers in his district are not clamoring for it.
“On occasion, Sen. Niceley does things for political reasons more than for good policy,” Lundberg said.
Top law enforcement officials in Tennessee are aware of Niceley’s effort to legalize industrial hemp but have stopped short of voicing an official opinion.
Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller, president of the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association, said that he and other sheriffs are wary of the idea, but that it is difficult to comment before the bill is finished.
“I can tell you that it will be discussed,” said David Moore, president of the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police. “I’ve just got to do some more research.”
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