Virginia House Agriculture Chairman Mitchell Van Yahres (D-Charlottesville) is moving forward with plans to establish a joint subcommittee to study the economic benefits of industrial hemp production despite having faced opposition from the House Rules Committee. As Agriculture Committee Chairman, Van Yahres has the authority to appoint a commissioned study without legislative approval. Van Yahres is currently trying to obtain funding for the study from the legislature.
"There is more than a good chance this commissioned study will go forward," an aid to Van Yahres told NORML today.
"We are extremely pleased to see that Virginia has joined the growing number of states that are investigating industrial hemp," said local hemp activist and businessman Eric Steenstra. "Given the long history of hemp in Virginia and the fact that so many farmers here now depend on tobacco, growing hemp makes good sense. Farmers are struggling to make ends meet and we believe that hemp will be an excellent alternative to tobacco."
"Domestic sales of imported hemp products raked in approximately $25 million dollars in U.S. sales in 1994 alone and the American Farm Bureau now calls hemp 'one of the most promising crops in half a century,'" said NORML's Deputy Director Allen St. Pierre. "The explosion of industrial hemp legislation at the state level is a direct result of growing awareness among legislators and the public that this is a viable crop for American farmers."
Similar legislation requiring North Dakota State University to study the feasibility and durability of industrial hemp production was signed into law on March 23. Prior studies have been commissioned by state legislatures in Hawaii and Vermont.
Status of Industrial Hemp Legislation in Other States
The Senate Agriculture Committee introduced legislation on March 6 authorizing Iowa State University to conduct research on the production and marketing of hemp. The bill now stands before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Senate Bill 340 explains that: "Industrial hemp historically has contributed to the economic welfare of this country, and is a renewable resource manufactured for textiles, pulp, paper, oil, and other products. The purpose of this act is to promote the economy of this state by providing for research necessary to develop industrial hemp as a viable crop." It further states that "research shall ... be determined by experimental trials when appropriate."
A companion bill introduced by Rep. Cecelia Burnett (D-Ames) was approved by the House Agriculture Committee on March 10 by a 18-3 vote, but later died in the House. Both measures were encouraged by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.
Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe (DFL-Erksine) introduced legislation on March 10 that would classify industrial hemp as an "agricultural product" and allow licensed farmers to cultivate the crop for "commercial uses." The Agriculture and Rural Development Committee approved the measure on March 18 and the bill is now awaiting action by the full Senate.
Senate Bill 1181 states, "The legislature finds that the development and the use of industrial hemp is in the best interest of the state economy and agriculture and that the production of hemp is regulated so as not to interfere with the strict control of controlled substances in this state."
A companion bill also remains alive in the House of Representatives.
Sen. Jerry Howard (D-Dexter) pre-filed legislation in December to allow the state's Department of Agriculture to license farmers to grow hemp for industrial and research purposes. The Senate "perfected" Senate Bill 79 on April 7 and attached an emergency clause stating that: "Because of the immediate need for the department of agriculture to authorize crop planting for this growing season, this act shall be in full force and effect upon its passage and approval."
The bill is expected to be a priority for the full Senate.
Rep. Floyd Prozansky (D-South Eugene) introduced legislation on March 26 to allow licensed farmers to cultivate and possess hemp for industrial purposes. The bill is awaiting action before the House Judiciary Committee and a hearing is expected shortly.
"Rep. Prozansky has been laying the base for this measure for the last two years," an aid told NORML. She explained that the passage of this bill could be a first step in replacing Oregon's timber-based economy with one supported by industrial hemp production.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500 or visit NORML's website at: http://www.norml.org.