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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Bills Aimed At Montana’s Hemp Industry Move Forward

Hemp plant.
Hemp plant. File photo.

HELENA -- The 2018 Federal Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp production and Montana lawmakers are considering the best ways to integrate it into the state’s agriculture economy.

Sen. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls, is sponsoring two hemp-related bills. Senate Bill 176 would allow the Montana Department of Agriculture to create a hemp certification program plan. Senate Bill 177 would eliminate the criminal background check requirement to grow hemp. The Montana Senate passed both bills this week and they now head to the House of Representatives.

SB 176 passed third reading in the Senate 50-0 and SB 177 passed 48-2.

Jacobson said the more opportunities and diversification farmers have, the better.

“When our ag producers are successful, then our small, rural communities are successful,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson introduced a third bill that would exempt hemp processing facilities from property taxes, but that bill  -- Senate Bill 178 -- was tabled in committee. Jacobson said he plans to work on amendments to move the bill forward.

Hemp was classified as an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Under the new farm bill, legal industrial hemp cannot contain more than .03 THC, which is a psychoactive chemical that makes people feel high.

So, hemp cannot get people high. According to a Montana Department of Agriculture fact sheet, marijuana contains between 10 to 20 percent THC.

The federal Congressional Research Service agency reports that in 2016, U.S. hemp products, including food products and consumer textiles, produced $688 million in retail sales.

The Montana Farmers Union supports the legislation, and the group’s president, Alan Merrill, says hemp is the crop of the future. He says under a pilot program, the state had about 2,500 acres of hemp growing, and that it’s expanding to more than 22,000 acres with legalization.

“It’s growing like wildfire,” Merrill said.

Jacobson said the sustainability of the crop is appealing, and that one acre of hemp can produce three times the amount of paper as an acre of trees.

“It’s a very exciting time for our ag community. I think we are on the front edge of some big things,” Jacobson said.

Merrill says the next step is to develop processing facilities in the state. The Great Falls Tribune reports that two are in works in Cascade and Pondera Counties.

Shaylee Ragar is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

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