Politics & Government

Kansas House endorses hemp sales. But would growers actually make money?

The Kansas House has endorsed allowing farmers to one day sell hemp, less than a year after the state authorized growth for research.

But some would-be producers of hemp say the legislation is more or less pointless.

The House passed House Bill 2173 on a 119-5 vote Tuesday. The bill still must go to the Senate.

The legislation paves the way for Kansas to create a commercial program to grow hemp, the industrial textile form of cannabis that is a close cousin of smokable marijuana.

But the bill effectively prohibits using Kansas-grown hemp in products intended for human and animal consumption, said Vernon Hammond, a pro-hemp activist and owner of two Wichita-area stores that sell hemp-derived CBD products.

It eventually allows for the sale of hemp fiber for uses such as rope, cloth or building material. However, those markets are not yet mature enough to support the cost of growing the crop, Hammond said.

“Ninety percent of the market is CBD right now in the U.S.,” Hammond said. “The industrial part of the market, we don’t have infrastructure . . . We can’t make anything with it.”

He said it would take at least three to four years to develop industrial uses for hemp and that’s not likely to happen anytime soon unless growers could make immediate money selling parts of the plant for CBD, or cannabidiol.

At present, the primary market for hemp is CBD, which is widely sold as a naturopathic treatment for disorders including seizures, depression, joint pain and nausea.

Bill supporters described the legislation as a delicate compromise between would-be growers, law enforcement and agricultural groups.

“We went through quite a process to come to a point where people were willing to swallow on this,” Rep. Eric Smith, R-Burlington said.

Lawmakers rejected several amendments that would have loosened restrictions on hemp growth.

One amendment, from Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, would have eliminated requirements for workers at hemp processing facilities to be fingerprinted and undergo a criminal background check.

It would also have allowed hemp products to be sold for human consumption as long as they have no THC, the chemical in cannabis that produces a high.

“The bill is supposed to be giving equal opportunity to owners, farmers, processors, distributors and retailers,” Dove said.

Last year, the federal government removed hemp with less than 0.3 percent THC from the list of controlled substances.

Kansas lawmakers last year approved the creation of a research program. The legislation advanced Monday would allow the development of a commercial hemp program, with producers eventually able to sell the hemp they produce.

The legislation authorizes the Kansas Department of Agriculture, along with Gov. Laura Kelly and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, to develop a plan for a commercial hemp program. The agency would then send the plan to the United States Department of Agriculture for approval.

Unless Kansas sends a plan to the federal government, the state will have to wait for the USDA to develop regulations for a commercial hemp program. Because there’s no time line for when that might happen, the Kansas Department of Agriculture is recommending lawmakers approve the bill.

The bill could cost Kansas anywhere between roughly $258,000 and $1 million. That’s because the state Bureau of Investigation doesn’t have the equipment needed to measure THC levels in hemp plants.

“They’ve never done this before, so they don’t quite know what the cost will be” Rep. Kent Thompson, R-Iola, said.

Kansas has received more than 200 applications to grow hemp for research, said Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, adding that program will continue.

“It’s still going to be researched so we can figure out what works best in Kansas,” Carlin said.

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Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.