Bill to legalize industrial hemp production in Nebraska passes first debate

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) -- The 2018 United States Farm Bill took hemp off of the controlled substance list, which means the federal government won't stop states from growing it. However, it is still illegal to grow in Nebraska.

The Nebraska Hemp Act made its floor-debut in late January and passed the first round of debate Monday, April 15. The bill has been put up to the legislature before, but has been turned down.

This bill aims to legalize the growth and production of industrial hemp and its by-products. Hemp, a part of the cannabis species, is usually grown for its by-products like CBD oil, fiber or even wood. Senator Justin Wayne, who introduced the bill, said Nebraska could be missing out on millions of dollars in revenue. Sen. Wayne said, he thinks the supply will create the demand for processing plants in Nebraska.

"That's not new," said Sen. Wayne. "If you look at soybeans, everybody started growing soybeans, but ethanol really didn't take off yet. Once they started growing it, they found a market that works with it
and ethanol plants started growing from there. It will work the same way."

The Nebraska Farm Bureau is also supporting this bill. They said farmers have been wanting to grow hemp for a while now.

"If there is interest in it and demand for it, we need to be able to meet it," said Ansley Mick of the Nebraska Farm Bureau.

While the first debate passed 37-4, some senators have concerns. They said they think the legalization of industrial hemp in the state could lead to the legalization of marijuana.

"It still concerns me... It won't be the answer to all of our problems," said Sen. John Lowe of Kearney. "This is a slippery slope. It's one of the first steps in legalizing marijuana."

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main active ingredient in marijuana. It's in hemp. too. Hemp has the lowest amount of THC in the cannabis species at .03 percent. Mick said, if you tried to smoke hemp, you'd get sick from smoke inhalation rather than get high.

"If we thought there was a chance of confusion (between hemp and marijuana), I don't think we would be supporting that," said Mick.

Sen. Wayne said he'd already heard from several investors interested in coming to Nebraska to support the new industrial hemp farms. He's hoping the growth will drive demand, especially with Omaha being at a pivotal spot between interstates.

"It's about production for me," said Sen. Wayne. "Three investors and companies are looking at this area and looking at the quality of hemp that could be grown here. And it's not just Omaha. It's Imperial and Gering, Nebraska."

The bill still needs to go through two more rounds of debates before it would be made into a law.