The problem with growing industrial hemp in Kansas is in the name.
Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species and contains tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component that provides the intoxicating high related to pot, or weed.
Legalization of pot for medicinal or recreational use has long been met with staunch opposition in the state. Any attempt to legalize industrial hemp could face similar opposition, though a measure that permits university research on the plant seems like a sensible step.
While university research is advocated in a bill under review by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee of the Kansas Senate, the measure prohibits commercial cultivation of the crop outside of state-sanctioned test plots.
Restrictions contained in the bill were written to appease law enforcement agencies that opposed a 2017 bill approved by the Kansas House, which would have allowed public and private business development for the growth of industrial hemp. That bill, which would have placed the Kansas Department of Agriculture in charge of licensing, did not make it through the Senate.
The viability of a potential bumper crop for state farmers influenced Rep. Steven Johnson, an Assaria Republican, to endorse the latest attempt to propel Kansas into a growing industry. Research, and even production, of industrial hemp has been approved in more than 30 states.
Concerns by law enforcement agencies over illegal marijuana activity are holding back Kansas farmers from the potential of benefiting from industrial hemp, which contains a THC content below 0.3 percent and can be refined commercially into such products as paint, animal food, clothing and paper.
University research could also prompt technological advances in equipment, and would be another potential offshoot to research the Senate bill would authorize universities to conduct on the plant.
With this initial measure, wheels would be set in motion for the growth of the crop legally throughout the state. Such a measure would probably ignite protest, not only by law enforcement agencies, but also those against the legalization of anything related to pot.
Yet again, hemp doesn’t contain a THC level needed to make it intoxicating. It is instead a versatile crop that uses less water, fertilizer and pesticide and is suitable in many capacities, including the prevention of soil erosion.
Moreover, the plant provides commercial benefits that allow growers in states outside of Kansas to prosper. The gains farmers would potentially realize from industrial hemp could enable young Kansans to stay in their rural communities.
The measure being examined by the Senate is only an initial step in the production of industrial hemp. Any ground broken that helps level a growing, and profitable, agricultural field is good for Kansas.