Hemp research allowed in farm bill, but remains illegal at MSU

Buried within the Agriculture Act of 2014, the farm bill signed into law at MSU by President Barack Obama two weeks ago, there is a provision legalizing the growth of industrial hemp for agricultural or academic research.

It is a provision that could easily be applied to MSU, which often touts itself as a premier agricultural research university. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said at the law’s signing that “this bill has Michigan on every page.”

But this is one provision that Michigan and MSU won’t be able to take advantage of because of state laws that prohibit the plant’s cultivation.

The farm bill requires that states choosing to grow industrial hemp specifically allow the crop under their laws.

The issue is, industrial hemp and marijuana are the same plant — at least in name.

The difference between industrial hemp and cannabis comes in levels of the compound delta 9-THC, which gives the plant its recreational and medical purposes. Industrial hemp only contains trace amounts of the compound, while cannabis plants are considerably more potent. Industrial hemp is not effective as a recreational or medicinal drug.

Nine states allow the production of industrial hemp, and 11 are crafting legislation to legalize the crop’s production.

Despite this, Michigan law defines all parts of the Cannabis sativa L. plant as marijuana regardless of the plant’s delta 9-THC content.

Doug Buhler, Director of AgBioResearch, said there were no plans in place for research should the crop be legalized in Michigan.

“We are monitoring the situation and will respond to opportunities as they arise,” Buhler said. “There is some interest in Michigan. Stay tuned.”

Michigan Industrial Hemp Education and Marketing Project is an advocacy group that works solely on promoting hemp and its uses. Everett Swift, the organization’s executive director, said he saw the farm bill provision as “a great step forward,” but he said Michigan’s “still got a long way to go.”

“In Michigan we’re way behind as far as education on that issue,” he said. “Our legislators are even worse.”

Swift said there are chemical and genetic differences between industrial hemp and marijuana plants and that many people are unaware of industrial hemp’s environmental and nutritional benefits as well its applications in building material and plastics.

Swift said he recently has been in contact with state legislators and hopes to introduce legislation to legalize industrial hemp to the state House in the next few months.

The Michigan Farm Bureau, whose policies are determined by the organization’s members, officially support “an effort by the State of Michigan to facilitate the legal permitting process of agricultural production of industrial hemp for industrial and food uses, as a sound rotational crop with established and emerging markets,” according to a statement from the bureau.

But Ryan Findlay, the bureau’s national legislative counsel, said in a statement that the Michigan Farm Bureau isn’t pushing to legalize the crop.

“Our focus is on making sure we utilize research dollars in the new farm bill for established commodities,” Findlay said.

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