Nebraska farmers could soon have the green light to grow hemp.
Legislative Bill 657, which would legalize industrial hemp, is still moving in the Nebraska Legislature. The bill would permit the growth and cultivation of the crop. The bill comes on the heels of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp on the federal level.
The Nebraska Hemp Act would provide licensing and fee requirements for farmers who wish to grow the crop.
Hemp crops must be registered with a GPS location and plants grown must be submitted for testing to determine they contain less than 0.3 percent THC, the principal psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
On Wednesday, the bill was removed from final reading to attach an amendment that allows if a person is caught with the plant material without proper documentation, it can be seized by law enforcement.
Opponents of the bill have argued that it would be a gateway to legalizing marijuana. But hemp is not pot. There is a clear distinction between hemp and marijuana, including the way it grows and the way it smells.
Hemp was last legally grown in Nebraska during World War II and the fibers were used for the war effort, according to The Business Farmer. At the time, Nebraska was the top hemp producer.
Growing hemp in Nebraska dates back to 1880 when the first successful crop was grown in the Fremont area.
Hemp can be manufactured into more than 25,000 products. Ismail Dweikat, UNL professor of agronomy and horticulture, who has researched hemp for the past three years as part of the university's hemp project said hemp can be used for grain, fiber, building materials like concrete and CBD oil, a health supplement that can be used to treat epilepsy, anxiety, inflammation and other issues.
Why wouldn't Nebraska want to legalize a crop that could help farmers, who are struggling due to low corn and soybean prices, diversify their operations?
Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, who introduced the bill, said hemp could be a $1 billion industry in Nebraska. It's hard to turn down an industry that could grow Nebraska's economy and help others in the process.
Nebraska is not alone in moving forward with hemp cultivation. Florida's Legislature recently passed a bill legalizing the crop. This week, Louisiana's Senate Agriculture Committee moved a bill forward and the Texas Senate unanimously approved a bill to legalize hemp.
Nebraska lawmakers need to act or the state may be left behind and lose out on a valuable resource and its profits.