Industrial hemp bill receives overwhelming support on Nebraska statehouse floor

AIndustrial HempBy Danae Lenz, Nebraska News Service
LINCOLN—Nebraska’s lawmakers rallied behind legislation that would make industrial hemp the newest among Nebraska’s crops. The bill – LB1001 – advanced 32-1 on Wednesday.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Norman Wallman of Cortland, said on Friday that the bill is a great way for Nebraska to further its name as an agriculture state. He cited many benefits of hemp, including the fact that it uses less water than traditional Nebraska crops such as corn. It is also biodegradable.
“I think we have to sustain our environment – plain and simple,” Wallman said. “I’m an older person, and I want to see younger people survive on the land for years and years. So this an alternative crop for people to grow and experiment with, and they can make numerous things out of it. So it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
On Wednesday, Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber was the only senator to vote against the bill, saying it was one step closer to making marijuana legal.
According to a Congressional Research Service report, hemp is used to make more than 25,000 types of products, including car parts, paper, food, construction materials, plastics, jewelry and many others.
“Seventeen other states have started, and we just want to be on the starting line as well,” Wallman said.
The only argument Wallman heard against the bill was that it might be a cover-up for marijuana plants because hemp and marijuana come from the same family. However, they are very different. Hemp contains less than 1 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient that causes the high from marijuana.
However, Wallman said on Friday that people wanting to grow marijuana would be unlikely to try to use hemp to disguise it. The two would cross-pollinate and lower the amount of THC in the marijuana plants, making them less valuable.
Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue, who is a big supporter of the bill, said there are several reasons why now is the time to pass it.
First, the Congress passed a farm bill that eases regulations on states, making a bill like LB1001 possible. She also said it would be good for Nebraska because it provides a new opportunity for farmers.
But the main reason Crawford supports the bill is for its medicinal purposes. She said hemp plants have been helpful in reducing seizures, and people don’t have to worry about getting high because of the low levels of THC.
Both Crawford and Wallman said another plus is it’s one fewer thing to import. “Now it’s imported from China and other countries, and I think we just as well grow it here,” Wallman said.
If the legislation is passed, anyone who wanted to grow hemp would have go to the Department of Agriculture and acquire a license. They would need to give information about the seeds and the sale of the product.
Wallman doesn’t expect the hemp growing operations to be large at first. He said he thinks people will start experimenting and then eventually move on to larger-scale production.  And he hopes it will bring jobs into the state, even if it’s just a few.
He also said people are very interested in starting a hemp processing plant in the state, which would likely bring in more jobs.
“Ten jobs, or 20 jobs, that’s something. … I think we’re stagnant as far as jobs, especially good-paying jobs,” Wallman said. “Agriculture sustains this state anyway, so maybe agriculture will help more yet.”

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