A state House panel wants more agreement among those involved before it advances a measure to authorize the legal growing and sale of industrial hemp in South Carolina.
Members of a House agriculture subcommittee on Tuesday told the bill’s supporters to work with the State Law Enforcement Division, SC Department of Agriculture officials and Clemson University’s public services agency to come up with a compromise. The move to hold off further debate came after nearly four hours of public testimony on the potential and problems with a plant from the same family as marijuana.
South Carolina lawmakers actually legalized hemp in 2014, but the act did not set up a permitting process. The state also did not coordinate with a federal law that allows the cannabis sativa plant to be grown for research purposes.
“One of the big things that hurts me is the fact that South Carolina was one of the first 8 or 9 states to pass pro-hemp legislation,” SC Industrial Hemp Alliance founder Lucas Snyder told the panel. “And, unfortunately, we are still not able to grow.”
Cannabis sativa contains only small amounts of THC, which is the chemical that causes marijuana’s “high” sensation. Supporters of the plant say its pollen also lessens the potency of its more psychoactive relative, meaning farmers would not be able to hide illegal marijuana plants among the legal hemp.
But the State Law Enforcement Division opposes the bill, arguing it would require additional resources to properly inspect and test hemp farm fields to ensure the crop is legal.
“One of the main reasons law enforcement has getting behind industrial hemp production is the inability to distinguish hemp from marijuana, which… can only be addressed through analytical or chemical testing of determining THC concentrations,” SLED forensic lab director Todd Hughey told the subcommittee.
The bill’s sponsor State Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, said there are hundreds of legal products sold in the US that use hemp grown in other countries. “Our farmers have been hit pretty hard by the floods, so we have an opportunity that will allow us to expand agribusiness in South Carolina,” she said. Her bill would allow the commercial sale of hemp within state lines.
But South Carolina’s Department of Agriculture wants nothing to do with researching hemp crops or maintaining a registry of legal farmers. Assistant Commissioner Clint Leach said the agency does not have the expertise or resources to oversee a research program. He also said ag officials are concerned that hemp is still considered an illegal Schedule One drug outside of research crops. “Quite frankly, we as an agency have a hard time being put in the position of overseeing a program that the federal government still considers to be illegal.”
State Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, noted hemp is already legally imported into the state from other countries and wondered why growing it would be banned in the Palmetto State. “All I know is that hemp is legally used in a ton of products that we use and we buy in the state of South Carolina.”
Although all sides have been told to reach a compromise, very little time remains for a deal to be reached. For a realistic chance of House-sponsored legislation passing this year, it must be sent to the Senate by May 1. Working backwards, that means any bill in committee would need to reach the House floor at least a week earlier. House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Chairman Davey Hiott, R-Pickens, admitted a deal would need to be reached by next week for a realistic chance of passing this session.