Chairperson of the Kansas House Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development and 73rd District Kansas House Representative Les Mason said his committee held a hearing in February on Kansas House Bill 2182, otherwise known as the Industrial Hemp Bill.
Mason said the bill was given very good reception by the committee members, and they gave the bill their blessing.
However, Mason said the bill still needed a bit more work, so they plan on trying to revise it on March 13.
If ultimately voted into action, Kansas House Bill 2182 would create the Kansas Industry Growth Act, authorizing and promoting research, business development/support activities, public-private cooperation and educational activities to promote the growth of an industrial hemp cultivating, processing and distributing industry throughout Kansas.
According to the bill, industrial hemp would include all varieties of the plant Cannabis sativa, which contains an extremely low amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) by weight.
THC is the chemical in cannabis known for providing users with a drug-induced "high," and is predominantly found in Cannabis indica – a different plant than industrial hemp.
As an industrial product, hemp could be valuable, as it can be used to produce a large variety of products, as well as oils and even fuels.
There was one glitch in the bill, Mason said, which had to do with law enforcement concerns about testing the product, but to his understanding, those concerns have been worked out, most of the parties are on board and his committee will likely pass a claim bill on March 13.
The bill still has a long ways to go from there, Mason said. If it passes on March 13, it will only be out of the Commerce Committee, and would still need to go to general orders for the entire house, where it may or may not get above the line for debate. If it passed, it would start the process all over again in the Kansas Senate.
"I think the conditions are really right for it, just because there are so many good things that can come from the plant," Mason said. "It's not an addictive plant because there's no THC, technically, and also, as we're fighting water resources in the western part of the state, this is a plant that virtually requires no water ... it's kind of a perfect storm."
Mason noted that industrial hemp is also being promoted as a potential alternative crop to wheat, and is a crop farmers will be able to multi-crop on.
Industrial hemp farmer and owner of Minnesota Hemp Farms, Inc. in Hastings, Minnesota John Strohfus said his company is entirely focused on producing industrial hemp.
At the time of the interview the State of Minnesota was only ten months into its industrial hemp program, but Strohfus said Minnesota's industrial hemp has been as successful as it could have been in that timeframe.
In that time period, Strohfus said Minnesota has gone from not being able to grow at all to branding, to having a pilot program created, having applicants apply to be able to grow, obtain seed, plant, start a company, create a brand, develop packaging, finish harvest, properly clean and store grain, and have it ready for processing.
Minnesota had to get in debt to build up its industry, but Strohfus said the state sees it as an investment to monetize at a later time.
Strohfus said other states have had a one-year head start in industrial hemp production, while Colorado has had a few years, due to its legalization of cannabis across the board. Minnesota has only legalized medical cannabis.
That medical cannabis is paving the way for industrial hemp is, in Strohfus' words, "quite ridiculous."
"Most states are coming around to the reality that there is a legitimate medical purpose, use and benefit to cannabis," Strohfus said, "so if they can get over that hurdle in their mentality and social upbringing and accept it with its psychoactive component (THC), then on the farming side, without the psychoactive THC, (accepting industrial hemp) is sort of a no-brainer."
Regarding why industrial hemp production in Kansas or elsewhere is a worthwhile endeavor, Strohfus said the lost opportunity, in not growing industrial hemp, is huge.
In states where a majority of people live off of agriculture related businesses, and that state is has a depressed market for traditional commodities, Strohfus it does not make sense to avoid producing industrial hemp, "especially when you have something that is not only a benefit to the soil and crop rotation, but also to the economics of the farmer and the rest of the state, which will have businesses and innovation built around that particular commodity.
Strohfus said there was previously a stigma about industrial hemp in Minnesota as well, and that stigma comes from a lack of education.
Even Strohfus admits he did not know that industrial hemp was significantly different than marijuana – he once thought hemp was a term for the stock and the fibrous parts of the marijuana plant.
"Once people take the time to understand the difference between marijuana and hemp, it is like understanding the difference between field corn and sweet corn," Strohfus said.
After people get around that hurdle, many quickly gravitate toward the crop's use as a fiber, but Strohfus said few recognize how much hemp-based food is being consumed around the world. The United States agriculture community is completely missing out on those profits, Strohfus explained, as well as profits from using hemp for nutraceuticals and other products.
The product is a "huge ocean" of possibility, but in recognizing the number of startup companies that are in the cannabis industry as a whole, as well as companies like his (that focuses purely on industrial hemp), Strohfus said one can see its market is already getting saturated.
"There is a lot of opportunity, but those opportunities are going to close because the barriers of entry will be higher the longer people wait to get involved," Strohfus said.
"Hemp is a viable, agricultural commodity," Strohfus said. If people are allowed to pursue it, and they need to educate themselves that it is not marijuana, and there are no risks or concerns with marijuana usage by allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp."