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Texas farmers needoption on hemp

January 4, 2019

State lawmakers need to revise several outdated laws on marijuana in the new session that begins Tuesday, and some of them will be controversial. But one part of this debate should earn widespread support — the legalization of hemp as a crop to produce rope, fiber, paper, etc.

Congress has removed the federal ban on this cash crop, and 41 states have done the same for their farmers. Texas, regrettably, is one of the nine still locked in the past.

Hemp is basically a biological cousin to the marijuana plant that growers cultivate to produce weed that is smoked. Hemp plants are tall and spindly while marijuana is shorter and more densely packed. Hemp plants have only tiny amounts of THC, the ingredient that gets marijuana smokers high. But hemp was close enough to illegal marijuana that it was prohibited in the so-called war on drugs.

Hemp was actually legal at earlier times in our nation’s history and used for a variety of fibrous products. The current move to legalize the plant simply allows farmers to do what their ancestors might have been doing long ago.

Hemp production is expected to increase from $700 million per year to $20 billion over the next five years. Texas farmers should be able to join this trend, either as a specialty crop or one that supplements other acreage plants in cotton or grain crops. Many parts of Texas have the right climate for hemp — not too much rain and plenty of sunshine.

Even state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, a staunch social conservative, supports the legalization of hemp in our state.

“This is all about taking the shackles off the American farmer,” Miller said. “In today’s economy, our farmers need maximum flexibility to diversify their production and thrive.”

He’s right, because farming is tough enough in the best of times, in Texas or any other state. Farmers need as many options as possible to deal with Mother Nature and changing markets.

In Kentucky, for example, many farmers are shifting away from tobacco, with its many health problems, to hemp production. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — again, a clear conservative — led the move in Congress to legalize hemp at the federal level.

Members of the Texas House and Senate need to understand the potential of hemp in this state. It will never become the state’s leading crop, but if it helps keep a few more farmers in business, it will be a valuable addition to our state’s agriculture.

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