TOPEKA — A bill to sow the seeds of industrial hemp production in Kansas is one step closer to fruition after it passed out of committee Monday.
House Bill 2182 had drawn concern from law enforcement, but enthusiasm from others.
“Kansas farmers are having a very tough time,” Rep. Willie Dove said after the House commerce panel offered its stamp of approval. “It’s very dry, and they need a crop that will utilize that dryness.”
The conservative Republican from Bonner Springs has championed the proposal, spending three years working on the topic.
McPherson Republican Les Mason, who chairs the commerce committee, believes chances are good the bill will reach a floor vote.
“We’ll work with leadership to see if we can get that done,” he said.
HB 2182 would allow research and business development related to hemp cultivation, processing and distribution. It would encourage public-private partnerships and academic research to that end. A summary attached to the bill indicates the Kansas Department of Agriculture would oversee logistics, such as licensing.
Hemp appeals to farmers because they can sell it for use in manufacturing fabric, paper and a wide variety of other materials.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 30 or more states now have laws allowing some measure of industrial hemp research or production. This includes creating pilot programs, authorizing studies or allowing commercial industry.
Some of the states, though, folded in provisions that make their laws contingent upon federal waivers or further changes to federal statute. Since 2014, the U.S. government has allowed limited cultivation for specific purposes, the NCSL says.
Proponents of HB 2182 included advocates of rural economic development and farmers groups, such as the Kansas Farm Bureau.
The bureau highlighted the potential for industrial hemp to be a water-efficient option better suited for Kansas than thirstier crops. This bill could help answer that question, it argued.
“We need statistically proven research,” the group said in written testimony.
The Elkhart Coop pointed to declining oil and gas-related revenues in southwest Kansas that are hurting the region’s economy.
“Our communities need to look for a revenue income,” the coop wrote.
But the proposal raises flags for law enforcement agencies like the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, who fear marijuana growers could use it as a shield.
“Industrial hemp and marijuana both come from the same plant,” the KBI’s testimony cautioned. “The only way to determine which category a seized product would fall into would be to determine the THC concentration.”
THC refers to tetrahydrocannabinol, the controlled substance that exists in higher concentrations in recreational marijuana than industrial hemp.
The KBI worries the existence of legal industrial hemp cultivation in Kansas would complicate criminal investigations into suspected marijuana, slowing the process and passing the cost onto taxpayers. The Kansas associations of sheriffs and of chiefs of police are similarly critical.
An amendment intended to allay some of law enforcement’s concerns didn’t pass Monday. Committee members expressed concern the proposed changes were so drastic they would necessitate a new round of hearings.
Speaking after the hearing, Mason said he doesn’t see the bill as a step toward legalizing marijuana and doesn’t think others perceive it that way either.
“I am totally opposed to recreational marijuana, but I do know what the potential is for our farmers and processors in industrial hemp,” Mason said. “The feeling is, we’re just missing out on a really huge, untapped market.”