Posted By: Camila Orti
Nebraska lawmakers have approved a bill that would allow the state to grow industrial hemp for research.
Supporters say this could give farmers an alternative crop, while opponents argue it's a step toward legalizing marijuana.
Bill Hawkins of HEMP Nebraska thinks its a small victory for Nebraska farmers.
"It is exciting, it's a big step for Nebraska, it is ending 70 some years of prohibition of this industrial hemp plant," Hawkins said.
Hawkins has lobbied the legislature for years to allow the state to grow hemp. His work paid off yesterday.
Senator Norm Wallman's bill that would allow industrial hemp to be grown for research purposes passed 39–2.
"I thought it was time we got onboard," Wallman said.
Industrial hemp is a subspecies of the cannabis plant, but contains hardly any psychoactive properties found in marijuana.
Supporters say industrial hemp is a good rotational crop option that enriches the soil.
The seed, oil, and fiber is used in many products like lotions, fabric, and even industrial materials.
"$500 million-worth of hemp products were imported in the U.S., we're the largest consumer of them," Hawkins said.
Opponents like Sen. Beau McCoy, who voted against the measure, say the bill is just a stepping stone to legalizing marijuana.
"This is the pathway that almost all states have gone down first, I just don't want to see it happen in Nebraska," McCoy said over the phone.
Hawkins asks, why not?
"The cannabis plant has both industrial and medically tremendous benefits that have been proven and needs to be really researched and allowed to develop," Hawkins said.
Sen. Wallman says if his bill leads to discussion on legalizing marijuana, so be it.
"Sometimes we're 'no people' here in Nebraska, we're more conservative even than Missouri and I like to be progressive," Wallman said.
If Governor Dave Heineman signs the bill into law, the crop would only be allowed to be grown for research purposes by the University of Nebraska and the Department of Agriculture.
The bill was modeled after the federal farm bill that makes such research an exemption to federal drug laws.