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West Virginia on Cusp of Legalizing Commercial Hemp Production

Licensed individuals in West Virginia would be able to lawfully grow hemp for commercial purposes under a bill that was unanimously approved by the state’s House.

The West Virginia House unanimously passed House Bill 2453 last week to allow licensed farmers to grow hemp commercially. The bill, passing the House by a 99-0 vote, expands West Virginia’s hemp licensing program to anybody in the state that wants to plant, grow, harvest, possess, process, sell, and buy hemp. Under the current law, hemp cultivation is restricted to the Department of Agriculture and state institutions of higher learning.

Delegates John Shott (R-Mercer) and Jim Butler (R-Henderson) introduced the bill in February. A member of the Cannabis genus, hemp contains less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component found in marijuana that causes a high. An array of hemp products, including cannabidiol (CBD) nutritional supplements, can be made through the crop’s stalks and seed. While a 2005 Congressional Research Service report concluded that the U.S. is the only developed nation that hasn’t established hemp for economic purposes, U.S. hemp retail sales reached $573 million in 2015, with hemp CBD products accounting for $65 million of the total.

“It’s been the victim of some mischaracterization,” Shott said, as reported by The Register-Herald. “It appears most of the problem is its similarity to marijuana. It’s a different breed of cannabis. The key is that the THC content of industrial hemp is very low. It’s about 0.2 to 0.3 percent compared to 3 to 15 percent in marijuana. Basically, you can smoke all the hemp you want and the worst that can happen is you get a headache.”

The bill removes hemp from the Schedule I classification in the state. To obtain a hemp license, individuals would have to go through the Department of Agriculture and meet statutory requirements. Universities would be prevented from selling the hemp they grow, but research programs could continue. The demand for industrial hemp in the U.S. has been said to be growing “dramatically.”

“I see this as a great opportunity to go out and start a new industry that would really start to take meaningful steps to diversify the economy and create incentives for young folks like myself to stay in West Virginia,” said Morgan Leach of Parkersburg, who has been working with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture and West Virginia University to grow hemp for research purposes.

CBD hemp oil products

The 2014 Farm Bill, signed into law by President Barack Obama, allowed state agricultural departments to license the growing of hemp for research and pilot program purposes. At least 30 states have so far passed laws creating hemp programs. In West Virginia, hemp seeds were planted for the first time 70 years last summer by researchers at West Virginia University. If the new law passes, West Virginia would join Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, California, and Vermont as states that have expanded beyond the “research only” directive and opened hemp production for commercial purposes.

“There are 25,000 different products that can be developed from the industrial hemp crop, so talking about the seed for the food industry, talking about the flowers and the leaves for the nutraceutical and the topical industries, and talking about the fiber that can develop thousands of new products,” said Leach. “It is a great opportunity for young entrepreneurs and innovators to take advantage of the new opportunities we are going to provide.”

House Bill 2453 has been passed on to the Senate, which is now considering the bill.

Learn more about the properties of hemp here, and keep up with the legal cannabis industry by regularly visiting the Medical Marijuana, Inc. news feed.