The just-approved farm bill allows states to use industrial hemp as a commodity and State Sen. Norm Wallman of Cortland says this could be an opportunity for Nebraska.
"It was grown prior to World War I and it was legal and then somehow it was against the law to grow it, so I think it's a win-win situation for Nebraska," said Wallman.
Hemp is the term for high growing varieties of the cannabis plant and can be refined into products such as hemp seed foods, hemp oil, wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, paper, and fuel. Other variants are used as marijuana.
LB 1001 would allow industrial hemp to be planted, grown, harvested and sold in the state. "I think it can really help small America and that's why I introduced it and hopefully it can help somebody," added Wallman.
Organic farmer Bill Hawkins says the potential new crop of hemp could bring a boost to Nebraska's economy. "Gives us a chance to compete on a level playing field both nationally and internationally with this new emerging industry."
Grant County Sheriff Shawn Hebbert has concerns about the proposal. "We do have hemp in western Nebraska, it grows all over the state. Some of the questions we have is, how is this going to be regulated? How is this going to affect the farmers and ranchers who already have this growing? Is it going to be a public health concern if one of these fields catches on fire?"
If a farmer wants to plant hemp, they would have to pass a criminal history check and pay $150 for a license. "It's unlimited on the products and local jobs that we can create with this valuable drought-resistant crop," said Hawkins.
Industrial hemp can only contain less than one percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the main mind-altering ingredient found in the cannabis plant responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects).
A legislative committee took no action on the bill.