JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Just as industrial hemp gained a powerful ally on the federal level, a House bill establishing a pilot program for the crop got some pushback in a Senate committee hearing.

The Senate Agriculture, Food Production, and Outdoor Resources Committee held a public hearing on Rep. Paul Curtman’s HB 2004 on Monday and subsequently passed the legislation 4-1. The bill was given approval by the House in a 141-4 vote in February.

Those testifying in opposition inexplicably linked industrial hemp to marijuana, worrying the impact the bill would have on law enforcement efforts and the effect on young adults.

“This would automatically legalize marijuana,” said Ed Moses, a retired Missouri State Trooper. “We would lose probable cause by law enforcement (officers) because we’d no longer be able to tell the difference.”

He argued that it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between marijuana and hemp, that producers could hide marijuana in a hemp field, and that hemp can be used to created butane hash oil.

But Curtman and Sen. Brian Munzlinger — whose own industrial hemp bill has moved out of the Senate — disagreed with the arguments the opposition made. Several times, Munzlinger pointed out that what they were talking about would still be illegal.

“I call this my marijuana eradication bill,” said Munzlinger. He pointed out that marijuana and hemp cannot be grown near each other because cross-pollination would render both crops useless.

Curtman

Under Curtman’s bill, the Missouri State Highway Patrol would be able to perform aerial surveillance on industrial hemp crops to ensure that marijuana is not being cultivated. All farmers seeking a license to cultivate hemp would undergo a fingerprint criminal background check. Crops would also undergo testing to verify a THC level of less than 0.03 percent.

Supporters pointed out the potential economic impact for the state, that hemp is being imported into Missouri and this would allow farmer’s in the Show-Me State to meet the supply demand.

Legalizing industrial hemp, as allowed through the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill, is an opportunity to introduce a brand-new economic footprint to the state, according to Curtman.

The benefits of legalizing industrial hemp got renewed attention on a federal level, with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, saying he will be filing a bill to legalize the crop as an agricultural product and remove hemp from the list of controlled substances.

“I will be introducing when I go back to Senate a week from today,” he said on Monday, legislation to “finally legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from the list of controlled substances.”

Under the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 hemp would be reclassified under federal law, allow the crop to be sold as an agricultural commodity and those researching hemp would be able to apply for federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.