What’s in a name? Plenty, if you’re a conservative state lawmaker trying to convince colleagues to give the green light to a revenue-producing crop that could revolutionize the Wyoming agricultural industry.
The legislator is Rep. Bunky Loucks (R-Casper) and what he’d like to see is farmers statewide have the opportunity to grow hemp. And let’s get this out of the way now: Unlike marijuana, you could smoke hundreds of pounds of the stuff and you wouldn’t get high.
“Maybe you’d get a sore throat,” said Loucks. But in hemp there is such a minute amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis — that they shouldn’t even be mentioned together. Potent, commercial marijuana in states where the plant is legal can have THC content of about 30 percent; hemp must be .03 percent or less.
Loucks did an excellent job educating other House members who incorrectly associate hemp with pot. “It’s not the devil weed, it’s not a gateway drug,” said the sponsor of House Bill 230. “I’m not trying to turn this into Colorado.”
The proposal passed the chamber 52-6, and is now at the other end of the Jonah Business Center, where the Wyoming Senate holds court.
If HB230 can win the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Loucks believes it would pass the entire chamber and go to the governor’s desk to be signed into law. But the clock is ticking on all bills that haven’t been approved by a committee in the second chamber. The deadline is Friday, Feb. 24.
The bill would require potential hemp farmers to apply to the state Agriculture Department, which would be required to issue a license before a hemp seed is planted. The federal government approved hemp farms in 2014, and so far 31 states have applied to do research or allow industrial hemp to be grown.
Loucks said he and a Cheyenne Republican, Rep. John Eklund, attended an informational hearing about hemp farming in the capital city last year. “John is a farmer, and afterward he said, ‘I like this idea,'” Loucks recalled. Eklund is a co-sponsor of the bill.
Loucks, who owns an office supply store in Casper, said HB230 would give Wyoming farmers another crop to put into rotation. “It grows anywhere, in terrible soil and in terrible climates,” he said, adding that Canada is the largest hemp producer in the world. “The strains they grow up there are the strains we would want here,” the lawmaker said.
The House committee wanted to know what the costs would be for the Department of Agriculture. Department officials said they won’t know until the state makes its application.
“Are there going to be 10 people interested or 1,010,” Loucks said. “The bottom line is we can do this and it’ll carry its own weight. [Other states] charge a $500 registration fee, plus $5 an acre for outside cultivation and 33 cents per square foot to grow it indoors.”
The growers themselves will pay the department to conduct random tests so the department can make sure no one is trying to intermingle marijuana and hemp plants. The state will also tax the products made from hemp, and there potentially will be a lot of them — so many that hempfarm.org says other industries have been accused of lobbying against hemp to avoid competition.
One of the earliest was the paper industry. “You can grow a few acres of hemp in 50 to 60 days,” Loucks said. “The acre comparison to replace the board-feet of lumber that’s cut in order to produce paper products is pretty astonishing.”
Hemp has been grown worldwide for thousands of years. Its seeds are pressed for oil that can be used for fabric, food, bio-diesel fuel, plastics, rope, building material, molded panels, car components, wallpaper, acoustic baffling, barn bedding for farm animals and much more. The hemp plant is highly resistant to most insects and disease, largely eliminating the need for most (or all) pesticides and herbicides.
The initial drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper. Going back much further, both the Gutenberg Bible (15th century) and the King James Bible (17th century) were printed on hemp-based papers, Loucks said.
For more than a century, hemp was legal tender to pay American taxes. Commercial interests that had much to lose from hemp competition helped propagate the “reefer madness” hysteria and used their influence to lobby for marijuana prohibition, which came with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Industrial hemp was banned right along with it.
But during World War II the U.S. government relaxed the anti-hemp laws and planted two million acres of hemp in Nebraska solely to produce rope. “With our battleships overseas, the only rope that would stand up to the saltwater was hemp,” Loucks said.
Today the largest hemp farm in the world is located in nearby Eaton, Colorado, where Colorado Cultivars has more than 3,000 acres. “We use it for seed production, for planting seeds for next year,” co-owner Damian Farris told Westword in September 2015. “Some seeds are going to be used in food products or for food oil. We’re also growing it for CBD [cannabidiol]. We have a line of products called Moonrise Extracts, tinctures and honey, and stuff like that that’s infused with CBD.”
Given Wyoming’s economic downturn due to low fossil-fuel prices, it would be foolish to pass up the opportunity to allow Wyoming farmers to grow a crop with such amazing marketability. “There could be a processing plant here,” Loucks said. “It can expand in a lot of areas.”
If you agree, contact members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and ask them to give HB230 a hearing so the entire Senate can consider the bill. Its chairman is Sen. Leland Christensen (R-Alta), and its members include Sens. Wyatt Agar (R-Thermopolis), Liisa Anselmi-Dalton (D-Rock Springs), Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) and Dave Kinskey (R-Sheridan). Their decision can have a tremendously positive impact on Wyoming’s agricultural and economic future.
Abortion rights advocates dominate Senate hearing
UPDATE: Just like in the House, where nearly half of the Labor, Health and Social Services Committee’s members were co-sponsors of three anti-abortion bills, there was no mystery whether the Senate Agriculture Committee would pass two of the proposals last Thursday. Its members are all conservative Republican men.
The Ag panel passed HB116 and HB182 by 4-1 votes, with Sen. Fred Emerich of Cheyenne the lone dissenter. Unlike the House committee hearing, where 71 supporters of the anti-abortion package testified compared to 30 opponents, the Senate hearing was dominated by abortion rights advocates. Forty-one members of the public opposed the two bills, compared to 19 supporters. Six legislators who testified all backed the bills.
But it wasn’t the sheer number of opponents who turned out that was impressive, it was the quality of their testimony. They seized on the opportunity to portray both bills as unnecessary after several supporters acknowledged that neither bill would substantially change current law.
House Bill 116 would prohibit the sale of fetal tissue or body parts for profit by any person or organization, which is already against the law in most cases. House Bill 182, which would have required physicians to provide women considering abortion with a free ultrasound and information about their options, ignores the fact that ultrasounds can already be obtained in Wyoming.
“These bills both provide a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Linda Anderson of Platte County. “These bills are intended to discourage abortion.”
Jennifer Wilson of Lander said HB182 is an insult to women because it says women don’t already understand what an abortion is.
The primary argument voiced by opponents was that the two bills were an example of state government overreach — something most people in Wyoming oppose when it’s done by the federal government.
A few supporters contended that it was “barbaric” and “savage” to sell body parts for profit, which would be true if it was happening. But charges that Planned Parenthood was guilty of doing that have been thoroughly debunked.
Now, both bills will go to the entire Senate for consideration. They should have a tougher time of winning support in the upper chamber, which is generally not as socially conservative as the House. Opponents of the bill made an excellent case against the bills. Now we’ll see how many senators agree.