JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The effort to allow Missouri farmers access another crop has been many years in the making and, it turns out, 2018 is the year that the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of hard work, discussions, and negotiations came to fruition.
On June 1, 2018, then-Gov. Eric Greitens signed HB 2034, filed by Rep. Paul Curtman in the Missouri House, into law. The measure legalizes an industrial hemp pilot program in the Show–Me State and exempts the crop — which has less than 0.03 percent THC — from the list of controlled substances and the definition of marijuana.
The law takes advantage of a provision within the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill that allows states to pass their own legislation on industrial hemp for commercial, research or pilot programs. While this is the year the bill made it across the finish line, elected officials, farmers, and some groups have worked for several years to open Missouri to the rotational crop.
Sen. Brian Munzlinger has been a driving force behind the legislation, working with Curtman and several entities to get agreeable language in the bill. Munzlinger — who is term-limited — chaired the Senate Agriculture, Food Production, and Outdoor Resources Committee.
“Putting in the amount of acreage, I think, satisfied groups that this was really a pilot program,” said Munzlinger. “When we said it had to be at least 10 acres in size and no more than 40 acres was probably one of the biggest things [in getting it passed.]”
The bill also authorizes the Missouri Department of Agriculture to coordinate research with a university and specifies compliance with the federal Agricultural Act of 2014.
As more research has been done on industrial hemp in other states — particularly Kentucky — attitudes about the crop have also changed, noted the third-generation farmer.
While the Missouri Farm Bureau did not take a stance for or against the measure this year, several groups did support the legislation including different farmers and industry organizations. Beyond Organic Ranch, a 4,000-acre farm that hopes to cultivate the crop, hired Brian Grace and Nexus Group to advocate for hemp.
“In my quest to find a multi-dimensional crop that works well in our organic regenerative agricultural system, all roads led to hemp. With its rich history of use and unlimited potential across a vast array of industries, we vigorously pursued the opportunity to make hemp an integral part of our operation putting substantial resources behind legislation that would allow Missouri farmers to participate in this exciting opportunity,” said Jordan Rubin, owner of Beyond Organic Ranch.
“The advocates in Missouri have fought long and hard to allow farmers the opportunity to add Hemp into their crop rotation,” said Janel Ralph, Public Relations Director, Agricultural Hemp Solutions. “I feel honored to be fortunate enough to work with the great people of Missouri to see their dream finally come to fruition.”
As the measure went through the legislative process, advocates made sure the differentiate hemp from marijuana. Hemp and marijuana come from the same cannabis species, Cannabis sativa, but are from different subspecies making them scientifically and genetically different.
“Hemp is not marijuana,” said Munzlinger. “Actually, the two don’t together when grown outside. The industrial hemp dilutes the marijuana and marijuana raises the THC in industrial hemp. One thing you don’t want to have to do it destroy your own crop.”
The measure passed out of the General Assembly with strong bipartisan votes — 29-3 in the Senate and 133-6 in the House.
“It could change Missouri agriculture. I mean we really haven’t had an alternative crop like that,” said Munzlinger.
Moving forward he advises producers to look for processors before planting the crop and that the different facets of the industry work in tandem. It may be a slow process to get up to the number of acres but Munzlinger thinks “we will definitely” see some acres of hemp planted next year.
Alisha Shurr was a reporter for The Missouri Times and The Missouri Times Magazine. She joined The Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University.