Marijuana’s less intoxicating but still federally illegal relative, hemp, could be grown in former tobacco fields around the state, if a pre-filed bill in the S.C. Senate moves forward.
Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, pre-filed S. 839 Dec. 10. The legislation would legalize industrial hemp, which would be defined as different from the more potent marijuana.
Bryant said legalizing industrial hemp could benefit S.C. farmers, especially as one of the state’s cash crops declines.
“As we see the tobacco production go down which is a good thing maybe farmers could possibly start up a production of hemp,” Bryant said. “We’ll study it very carefully when the legislative season starts and see if we can figure out a way to allow this crop that could be a little bit of a boost to the agriculture community in the state.”
Bryant said soil conditions necessary to grow tobacco crops are similar to hemp’s needs.
Industrial hemp is used for paper, rope, textiles and more. Proponents of the fiber say the possibilities are endless — even using the plant as fodder for livestock, a biofuel and in making plastics.
Bryant said he is unaware of any previous attempts to pass legislation seeking to allow industrial hemp in the state. If the legislation passes, South Carolina would become the ninth state to allow industrial hemp to be grown.
Efforts to legalize hemp nationwide was rejected earlier this year. One of those states allowing hemp is Colorado, which also has legalized recreational marijuana, flouting federal law.
But, Bryant said, the ultimate goal of the proposed legislation would not be to create a “gateway” for the “gateway drug” — as marijuana is called by anti-drug advocates — to be legalized in the state.
“The types of hemp plants that would be permissible in this bill are ones that do not have any significant amount of the chemicals that are so attractive about marijuana,” Bryant said.
Bryant’s bill defines hemp as different from the illegal drug: “Hemp and marijuana are genetically different cultivars of the same plant species and are scientifically distinguishable from each other.”
Bryant said he’s merely proposing a potentially lucrative crop for the state and that he expects the legislative process to iron out further details when senators return for the January session. The bill will begin in the Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.