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Hemp legislation one step nearer to completion

Texas Senate unanimously passes hemp bill, awaits House action

The Texas Senate unanimously passed legislation this week to the way for the legalization of hemp farming in Texas, an issue that Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate, has opposed in the past.

The Texas Tribune reported the “Hemp Bill” passed Wed., May 16 without opposition. The Tribune reported at least one senator referred to hump day, a moniker associated with Wednesday because it represents the half-way mark of the work week, as “hemp day” because of broad support from both sides of the political aisle.

House Bill 1325 was originally passed unanimously by the full Texas House April 24 and passed on to the Senate chamber. But some Republican members of the Senate proposed amendments to the House version, including authorization of the State of Texas to have access to any and all farms authorized to grow industrial hemp.

Both versions of the bill will legalize hemp-derived products such as CBD oil for use in Texas, but with limitations. Both Texas-grown hemp and derivatives of hemp must not contain more than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrochloride (THC), the plant-produced chemical which produces the “high” in marijuana.

Other amendments include provisions for fines to be levied against farmers and stores that sell CBD oil if THC levels exceed the 0.3 percent mark and calls for random testing of THC levels of hemp plants on the farm and CBD oil in stores. Plants and oil that exceed state THC limitations would be siezed and destroyed.

Hemp’s psychoactive cousin, marijuana, would remain illegal in Texas under the House and amended Senate Bills passed this week. Farmers and farm supporters say major differences exist between marijuana and hemp, the latter used extensively in the manufacture of a host of commercial products, including building materials, cosmetics, oils and clothing.

Supporters say hemp farming eventually would offer an additional cash crop for Texas farmers and is drought resistant and not subject to serious pest pressure like many other crops. The Senate version requires the State of Texas to develop rules and policies regarding hemp and CBD production.

State Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, sponsored the House Bill and State Sen. Charles Perry R-Lubbock, sponsored amended legalization in the Senate Chamber.

The amended bill has now been passed back to the House for reconciliation. Both chambers must negotiate the differences in each version of the bill by conference committee before it can be passed to Texas Governor Greg Abbott for his signature.

Currently, more than 40 states have legalized hemp production as a result of changes in the 2018 farm bill, which removed hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act and cleared the way for legalized hemp farming, pending state approval and guidelines in all 50 states.

In Texas, the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) would be charged with developing hemp production policies subject to approval from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has said he supports hemp farming in Texas, but there has been no word how long it might take for the TDA to adopt rules and guidelines and for USDA to approve them before the state clears the way for hemp production.

It remains unclear whether this new legislation will affect Texas’ existing medical cannabis program. Another House bill addressing and broadening use to include other types of medical conditions is expected to reach the Senate floor before the legislature adjourns later this month.

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