Advocates of industrial hemp production in Kansas sought support Tuesday for members of the Kansas Senate with a bill making it legal for state universities to conduct research on a plant capable of being processed into food, fabric, paper and other materials.
The Kansas House overwhelmingly adopted a similar bill during the 2017 session, but the Senate sidestepped House Bill 2182 because it was opposed by law enforcement organizations. The House plan would allow university research and public-private business development related to hemp and place the Kansas Department of Agriculture in charge of the licensing.
Instead, the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee took up a more limited measure contained in Senate Bill 263. It would permit university research but forbid commercial cultivation of the crop outside state-sanctioned test plots.
“The uses of industrial hemp are many and varied — using both the stalk for fiber and the seed for foodstuffs and oil products,” said Rep. Steven Johnson, a Republican from Assaria in central Kansas.
Johnson, who endorsed the Senate bill, said the federal government in 2014 opened the door to state-by-state exploration of industrial hemp. More than 30 states have laws allowing for industrial hemp research or production. Kansas law still forbids growing of hemp.
The potential of industrial hemp as an alternative crop in Kansas fields shouldn’t be ignored, he said.
“If we want meaningfully different outcomes on issues such as economic development or water use, we will have to identify and explore meaningfully different opportunities,” Johnson said.
Sen. Dan Kerschen, a Garden Plain Republican and chairman of the Senate committee, said his conversations with Kansas State University agronomy faculty indicated the university in Manhattan would need external funding to delve into industrial hemp research.
The industrial version of the plant has a tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, content below 0.3 percent and cannot produce the intoxicating influence sought by pot users.
Ed Klumpp, legislative liaison for three Kansas law enforcement organizations, said the associations were “cautiously withholding opposition” to the Senate bill. In 2017, he said, the House bill was opposed by the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, Kansas Sheriff’s Association and the Kansas Peace Officers Association.
He said the Senate measure should be altered to mandate program participants or anyone with a financial interest in the program undergo a criminal background check.
Individuals engaged in possession or transporting the industrial hemp should be licensed by the state, Klumpp said.
“Our decision to withhold opposition could change in future legislative action if these changes are not adopted,” he said.
In the past, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation took issue with the cultivation of industrial hemp complicating the state’s work on criminal investigations into illegal marijuana activity. The KBI shared frustration with the cost of laboratory testing to differentiate between legal and illegal samples of the plant.
KBI representative Katie Whisman said the Senate’s version of the industrial hemp bill more properly limited the scope of persons who could legally possess and cultivate industrial hemp to individuals involved in research projects.
“We do not have the same concerns about its effects on laboratory testing as we have in past bills,” Whisman said.
However, the Kansas Sierra Club endorsed by the Senate bill as a possible game-changer for Kansas agriculture.
“As a top 10 agriculture state,” said Kansas Sierra Club lobbyist Zack Pistora, “Kansas ought to eliminate the unwarranted governmental barriers for farmers to grow hemp to benefit the state as a whole. Industrial hemp has a variety of uses an can be highly profitable for farmers who may be struggling financially with growing current commodities.”
He said industrial hemp fields would consume less water, fertilizer and pesticide and the plant was capable of serving as a rotational crop, cover crop or in grass buffer zones to help prevent soil erosion.