The South Carolina Legislature approved a bill that allows for the cultivation and sale of hemp.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster recently signed into law a bill that allows for the growth and sale of hemp. House Bill 3559 establishes a hemp pilot program that will award 20 licenses permitting farmers to grow, harvest and sell hemp in South Carolina. Each grower will be able to cultivate up to 20 acres of the crop.
With the bill signed into law, South Carolina becomes the 31st U.S. state to allow hemp cultivation or pilot programs under the federal 2014 Farm Bill. Its program will be managed by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.
Hemp, unlike its Cannabis sativa L family member marijuana, contains 0.3 percent or less of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical that causes a high. It’s been cultivated for centuries for myriad purposes, from textiles to food to rope to paper to nutritional supplements. It was legal to grow in the U.S., and was at one point even considered legal tender, until the 1930s. With decades of prohibition, the crop’s best cultivation practices were largely forgotten.
House Bill 3559 was passed unanimously by the House of Representatives with a vote of 105 to 0, and approved by the Senate with just a single “no” vote. The Senate amended the bill to allow for gradual expansion. In the program’s second year, the Department of Agriculture will up the number of awarded licenses from 20 to 50, and allow growers to plant 50 acres each. The next year, the Agriculture department will determine whether the program should be expanded further.
“I don’t think it moves us to a position, right out of the gates, that would be burdensome for the department and Clemson to oversee,” said Rep. Russell Ott (D-St. Matthews), a bill co-sponsor. “I think we are right here on the brink of getting a new crop that our farmers in South Carolina are going to be able to grow, and our manufacturers are going to be able to use.”
Ott said he expects South Carolina farmers to be growing hemp within the next few months.
“I know that people have already contacted the department to let them know that they are interested in applying for the permit,” said Ott. “The bottom line is, we could have hemp being grown in South Carolina this year. And that’s exciting.”
“It’s my hope that they will act very quickly,” said State Sen. Danny Verdin (R-Laurens), chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Interested growers will have to pass a State Law Enforcement Division background check prior to being awarded a license. Those awarded will have to work in coordination with an in-state research university to develop products and a market for hemp goods. The bill also allows South Carolina universities and the Department of Agriculture to conduct research on the potential benefits for the state in growing and processing hemp.
Because federal legislation has prohibited commercial hemp farming nationally, today nearly all hemp used in the U.S. $688 million hemp market is imported.
“It might just be a niche,” said Verdin. “But I believe there is a demonstrated marketplace globally. This very slow and heavy regulated approach will quickly evolve into a valuable industry. Imagine if we could actually make textiles in our textile mills again.”
“Any agricultural crop we can cultivate here and make a profit for our farmers, we should try,” said State Senator Greg Hembree.