Monday, July 25, 2016

From the Archives: Virginia General Assembly passes bipartisan bills to legalize industrial hemp

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on February 12, 2015. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site was scheduled to go dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Virginia General Assembly passes bipartisan bills to legalize industrial hemp

“The United States is the largest consumer of hemp products in the world,” says Virginia libertarian activist Nicholas Cote, “but it is the only industrialized country that prohibits farmers from growing hemp.”

Despite this, Cote is optimistic that change is on the horizon. Last week, both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly approved bills to allow the licensed cultivation of industrial hemp, following the lead of legislatures in Kentucky and North Dakota. The bill in the House of Delegates (HB 1277), sponsored by Del. Joseph Yost (R-Blacksburg), passed on a vote of 98-0. The Senate bill (SB 955)sponsored by state Senator Roz Dance (D-Petersburg), passed on a vote of 32-5.

In a recent interview, Cote -- who heads up the advocacy group, Right Way Forward Virginia -- told the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner that the bipartisan nature of the support for these bills is heartening, but he is disappointed that Virginia's congressional delegation has not stepped up to the plate.

Currently, he explained, the federal government permits the growing of hemp only on a limited basis – largely for research purposes. Last month, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) introduced the “Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015” which would exempt industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. The bill has 52 cosponsors but none of them are from Virginia.

During World War II, growing hemp on American farms was encouraged by the government as part of the national war effort, Cote said. “George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp, and it was one of the first crops planted by the colonists at Jamestown.”

Hemp production is prohibited as a result of the nationwide, multi-decade war on drugs. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) opposes widespread growing of hemp because, as part of the cannabis family, it can be mistaken for marijuana, even though it cannot be smoked or used as a narcotic.

Broad support
The Virginia legislature's action has found a broad range of support.

In a press release, Chase Milner of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition, said that Yost's and Dance's bills had bridged the partisan divide in favor of “common sense cannabis policy reform.” He added that “not only will cultivating hemp greatly benefit America’s economy, it will also bring with it real, tangible environmental benefits.”

Virginia farmer and agricultural activist Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm has said that he is "a huge fan of hemp. I think we should quit calling it hemp and just call it the best plant ever."

In an editorial, the Charlottesville Daily Progress noted that advocates of the Virginia bills “have made compelling arguments that hemp is a useful plant and that its cultivation could allow Virginia to further diversify its agricultural base,” and concluded that “barring equally compelling arguments — which have yet to emerge — against the proposal, we’re inclined to let the commonwealth launch its research on the plant and prepare for the day when commercial cultivation can commence.”

Cote said that there may be minor adjustments necessary before one of the industrial hemp bills reaches Governor Terry McAuliffe's desk, but he is confident that Virginia's governor will sign it and make it law.


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