JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri statute legalizing industrial hemp has been in effect for roughly half a year, and the statehouse has already approved alterations to the law.
The reason for the changes, according to the bill sponsor, is quite simple: federal law has changed since the General Assembly approved the Missouri law.
“We need to update our language to meet the standards from the 2018 Farm Bill,” said Rick Francis, who filed HB 824.
What Francis did was lay the two laws side-by-side and denoted where Missouri statute was out of compliance with federal law. The House approved the necessary changes on Thursday with a 148-5 vote.
In 2018, the Missouri General Assembly authorized a pilot program in Missouri for hemp — as outlined in the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill. Farmers are required to undergo a background check, obtain a permit from the Department of Agriculture, and submit to random testing of the crop. Hemp production was limited to 2,000 acres statewide and to 10 acres to 40 acres per farmer — unless for research purposes.
One specific change Francis pointed to was the eligibility of those with felony convictions. Under Missouri’s current law, individuals with a felony could be approved to grow hemp if the offense was older than five years. Under the 2018 Farm Bill, individuals with a felony could be approved to grow hemp if the offense was older than 10 years.
“State law cannot be less restrictive than federal law,” said Francis. “It can be more restrictive but not less.”
Beyond updating terminology — such as, changing growers to producers — and regulations for federal compliance, the measure eliminates acreage restrictions for hemp.
The bill includes an emergency clause that only applies to universities for research purposes.
“This, to me, is a unique way of doing it and is the responsible way of doing an emergency clause,” said Rep. Tracy McCreery.
“Our universities need to have this, our farmers need to have this,” said Rep. Don Rone.
The goal is to allow research on the crop this growing season so that when farmers go to plant next year they have some information to go off of.
“We are not at zero information because we have states that are very close to us that are doing this. We have farmers here in Missouri that are farming hemp in other states,” said Francis.
He added that universities doing research in Missouri will allow Missourians to know what grows well in what soil and where, what fertilizer to use, and general information about cultivating the crop.
That research component will also help relieve some of the risk farmers will be taking on by planting hemp, according to Francis.
“[Hemp] is new, it is expensive, so it is not going to be easy, but I have no doubt that we can do it,” said the sophomore lawmaker. “[Hemp] gives our farmers the freedom to add another crop. And it is a crop that can have many significant uses.”
Sen. Denny Hoskins filed a companion bill that was heard in a Senate committee earlier this week.