JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri General Assembly has voted to give farmers the option of growing another crop.

On Wednesday, the Senate made some technical changes to Rep. Paul Curtman’s bill legalizing industrial hemp and passed HB 2034 in a 29-3 vote. Coming back to the lower chamber on Thursday, the House adopted the changes and voted 133-6 in favor of the bill.

“This bill has been four years in the making,” said Curtman. “I’m looking forward to getting this out of both chambers and signed by the governor.”

Currently 34 states, including Nebraska, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas — five of the eight states that border Missouri — allow the cultivation of hemp for commercial, research, or pilot programs.

The bill authorizes a pilot program in Missouri for hemp — as outlined in the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill. Farmers would be required to undergo a background check, obtain a permit from the Department of Agriculture, and submit to random testing of the crop.

Hemp production would be limited to 2,000 acres statewide and to 10 acres to 40 acres per farmer — unless for research purposes.

“I think it’s a shame to pass it, [we] needed to put in so many limiting restrictions,” said Rep. Deb Lavender. “I’m concerned about who gets to have a license, where they get to plant…who is going to get the opportunity. I’m just concerned with licenses fees, backgrounds check, we are already selecting who gets to win at this game.”

Hemp and marijuana come from the same cannabis species, Cannabis sativa, but are from different subspecies making them scientifically and genetically different. Industrial hemp — which has less than .3 percent THC — is non-psychoactive, which means it is unable to intoxicate the user, and specially bred for fiber and oil use.

The close relationship between hemp and marijuana has resulted in some pushback previously. During a Senate hearing, a retired state trooper argued the bill would legalize marijuana because law enforcement wouldn’t be able to tell the plants apart.

Backers of the bill argue that the cultivation of hemp will keep Missouri’s economic dollars in the state and be a boon for farmers.

The product can be used in an estimated 25,000 products, according to the Congressional Research Service, including rope, clothes, food, paper, textiles, plastics, insulation, biofuel, and concrete. 

“Right now, we have manufacturers who currently have to import industrial hemp from out of the state, sometimes from out of the country,” Curtman said.

“There is a paper manufacturer in west central Missouri who uses hemp in the manufacturing of their paper,” said Curtman. “There are restaurants around the state that use byproducts of industrial hemp.”

This legislation will enable those businesses to purchase the product from Missouri farmers instead of importing hemp, in turning keeping economic dollars in the state, according to supporters.