State Politics

Altered hemp bill sails through Senate, but House members are not happy

Hemp or pot: What’s the difference?

Now that SC farmers can grow industrial hemp, how well do you know your cannabis?
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Now that SC farmers can grow industrial hemp, how well do you know your cannabis?

The Senate on Monday approved legislation to legalize hemp, but the bill it appears to be in trouble in the House. 

The Senate voted 32-3 to approve a bill that would legalize the growing and selling of hemp products containing 0.3% or less of THC, the cannabis compound that gives marijuana its high. 

Backers say the state needs to pass legislation that conforms with federal law on hemp while maintaining the state’s prohibition on marijuana. Congress late last year passed a new farm bill that effectively legalized hemp

“The problem is, right now, our law doesn’t differentiate,” said Republican Sen. Jim Rice. “Under our current code, hemp is marijuana.” 

Oregon and Kentucky are big producers of hemp, and much of what they grow is processed in Colorado. Companies rely on interstate trucking to transport the plant and often drive through Oklahoma and Idaho, where some truck drivers have been arrested

Backers of legalizing hemp in Idaho say the state’s climate is ideal for growing hemp, and farmers could sell hemp seeds and a hemp-derived extract called cannabidiol, or CBD, which is seen by many as a health aid. 

In its purified distilled form, CBD oil commands thousands of dollars per kilogram, and farmers can make more than $100,000 an acre growing hemp plants to produce it. That distillate also can be converted into a crystallized form or powder. 

Opponents say legalizing hemp could make it more difficult to enforce the state’s marijuana laws. 

The bill was amended in the Senate to address those concerns by law enforcement officials as well as Republican Gov. Brad Little, who last week said he was chagrined with the House version because it didn’t include law enforcement provisions. 

Republican Rep. Dorothy Moon said Monday that the Senate amendments changed the bill too much, and she withdrew as one of the sponsors, along with other House members. 

Moon said rewriting of the bill to meet concerns of law enforcement officials made the bill a law enforcement bill rather than the agriculture bill she put forward. 

The amended bill “makes hemp illegal to grow, possess and transport in Idaho,” she said. 

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Idaho Statesman investigative reporter Cynthia Sewell was named the 2017 Idaho Press Club reporter of the year. A University of Oregon graduate, she joined the Statesman in 2005. Her family has lived in Idaho since the mid-1800s.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.