Pubdate: Thu, 20 Feb 2014
Source: Herald, The (SC)
Copyright: 2014 The Herald
Author: Joey Holleman


Columbia - With little debate but many qualifications, a state Senate 
panel Thursday advanced a bill to allow the cultivation of hemp in 
South Carolina.

That's industrial hemp, not marijuana.

The distinction is why qualifications came with nearly every 
statement in the Senate agriculture subcommittee meeting.

"This has nothing to do with legalizing marijuana," was the opening 
statement of subcommittee chairman Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg.

The bill, S.839, makes the difference clear.

Industrial hemp is genetically different from the hemp plants that 
produce the quality of tetrahydrocannabinol that gives marijuana its 
mind-altering properties. The S.C. legislation also would remove 
industrial hemp from the state's current definition of marijuana.

To make the distinction even more clear, the bill introduced by state 
Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, includes a provision that specifically 
makes it illegal to try to hide marijuana plants among industrial hemp fields.

The fiber and seeds of industrial hemp can be used in a multitude of 
products, from fabrics to paper to edible seeds.

South Carolina isn't on the cutting edge of hemp legalization.

Last year, the Kentucky legislature passed into law a proposal to 
allow industrial hemp farming in that state. Hemp was a major 
industry in Kentucky before the federal government criminalized the 
sale and use of marijuana in the 1930s.

The Kentucky legislation is much more detailed than the S.C. The Blue 
Grass State's law includes provisions for registering, monitoring and 
testing of growers and their product by the Kentucky department of 
agriculture and state police.

Kentucky is one of 10 states that have approved some version of 
industrial hemp legislation. The others are California, Colorado, 
Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West 
Virginia, according to the website Legislation to 
legalize hemp also has been introduced in 11 other states, including 
South Carolina.

The S.C. Department of Agriculture didn't offer any thoughts at 
Thursday's committee meeting. A spokeswoman said the department isn't 
ready to weigh in on the subject yet.

But Sen. McGill said farmers in the Pee Dee who have spoken with him 
are excited about the possibility of a new crop to help make up for 
income lost due to the drop in tobacco production in recent years.

One major sticking point in the launch of an industrial hemp industry 
in the state is the federal requirement that any new planting of the 
crop be approved by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, which has 
turned down such requests in the past.

Kentucky officials have argued such approval shouldn't be required 
because of a policy change by the U.S. Department of Justice last 
August. That Justice Department said it will not oppose laws by 
individual states to allow production of marijuana. Also, the broad 
federal farm bill, recently approved by Congress, includes a 
provision allowing industrial hemp cultivation on a limited basis for 
research purposes.

State Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, a former 15th Circuit solicitor, 
said he called "exceedingly conservative" friends in law enforcement 
in Kentucky to see what concerns they have with the prospect of 
industrial hemp cultivation there. They told him they see no 
problems. "They satisfied whatever concerns I had," Hembree said.

The subcommittee voted unanimously to move the bill on to the full 
Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. If approved there, it 
would go to the full Senate and, if successful, to the House.

The only person to address the subcommittee on the bill was Wayne 
Borders, president of the Columbia chapter of the national marijuana 
advocacy group NORML. Borders said the cultivation of industrial hemp 
is a billion-dollar-a-year industry, but the vast majority of 
industrial hemp products purchased in the United States are produced in Canada.

"You can go down to Rosewood Market or Earth Fare and buy hemp seeds, 
and they're from Canada," Borders said. "If South Carolina could get 
on this early, we could reap economic benefits."

McGill said he will be on the opposite side of the argument from 
Borders and NORML on legalizing marijuana, but, he added, he thinks 
industrial hemp could have a place in the state's agriculture economy.

While hemp wasn't a major crop in the state before its 
criminalization, it was grown here and had been for centuries. 
According to "A History of Hemp," by Robert A. Nelson, S.C. leaders 
in 1733 voted to pay a man named Richard Hall to promote the hemp 
industry over a three-year period. t that time, hemp often was used 
to produce rope.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom