Farmers in Texas are well positioned to be top producers of what’s poised to become the next major U.S. cash crop — hemp — but only if state lawmakers let them, advocates told a legislative committee at the Capitol on Tuesday.
“Texas could lead the nation’s hemp economy,” said Shawn Hauser, a representative of the American Hemp Campaign. “It’s jobs, family farms and economic growth. It’s just common sense” to legalize the crop in Texas.
A version of the 2018 farm bill that was recently approved by the U.S. Senate would lift federal prohibitions against growing hemp — the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana. If the provision makes it into the final version of the farm bill, states would be able to decide for themselves how to regulate the crop.
Hauser, along with members of the Texas agriculture industry and other hemp backers, turned out for a state House committee hearing to urge lawmakers to legalize hemp production during next year’s state legislative session. They said an abundance of suitable crop land in Texas, as well as hemp’s relatively low water requirements, makes the state ideal for what could be a $2 billion U.S. industry in the next few years.
“For me, this is such a monumental new industry,” said Jeff Williams, of Clayton Williams Farms & Ranches in Fort Stockton. “To be able to jump in at the ground floor and not only grow (hemp) but produce some of the end products (derived from hemp), it’s one of the most exciting things about it.”
Hemp is used in upwards of 25,000 products, Williams and others said. It’s a source of fiber for clothing and industrial parts, and its seeds and oils are used in health and food supplements.
Members of the House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock — which held Tuesday’s hearing — were largely receptive to the message. The committee approved a bill during last year’s legislative session that would have allowed Texas farmers to grow and market hemp as part of a federal pilot program, but it never came up for a full House vote.
Under existing law, products containing hemp, such as clothing and food supplements, can be imported into Texas and sold in the state, but farmers can ‘t grow the crop here.
Richard Thornton, Texas environmental programs coordinator for clothing company Patagonia, said his company currently imports the bulk of the hemp it uses from China but would like to be able to buy from growers in Texas and elsewhere in the United States. Hemp has a relatively low environmental impact, improves soils and can “empower small-scale farmers,” he told members of the House committee.
“The greatest obstacle is the fundamental misconception that industrial hemp is the same as marijuana,” Thornton said, noting that education is needed to change opinions about the crop.
To be legally classified as hemp, cannabis plants can contain no more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the chemical in marijuana that produces a high. Marijuana for recreational purposes generally contains from 9 percent to more than 30 percent THC.
Jim Reeves, state legislative director for the Texas Farm Bureau, told the committee that his organization supports legalization of hemp production in the state.
“This could give our farmers additional revenue, especially in some of those bad years,” Reeves said.
Williams said after Tuesday’s hearing that he’s optimistic the state will legalize hemp production during the 2019 legislative session despite its failure to do so last year.
“I feel very confident” that momentum is swinging toward approval, he said.