A bill passed in the Senate Wednesday would allow farmers to grow and sell industrial hemp, which is a plant from the same species as marijuana.
Hemp contains only small amounts of THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the mind-altering chemical found in marijuana. It is primarily grown outside the U.S. for its industrial fiber that is used for paper, rope, and textiles. It is also grown for use in protein powders. Finished hemp has always been legal under federal regulations.
The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, and Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, who are well-known for having some of the most conservative voting records in the Senate. Bryant joked that he was surprised that the bill passed unanimously. “Senator Bright and myself typically don’t author things that even pass, much less get a unanimous vote.”
Bryant, a pharmacist in his private life, said there was no threat of legalized marijuana under the bill. “I did inform my colleagues that if you do try to disguise marijuana with hemp, they cross-pollinate and it ruins your crop,” he said after the vote. “So it’s really a non-issue.”
The bill heads to the House after another procedural vote expected on Thursday.
Until recently, hemp production was banned under federal law. But a new federal farm bill passed by Congress this year allows 10 states that permit hemp programs to regulate the crop. Permission from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration was previously required, but the DEA would not grant it.