CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Licensed individuals would be able to lawfully grow hemp under a bill passed Tuesday by the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, explained that House Bill 2453 would expand the list of people who are currently allowed to grow hemp to individuals who have satisfied the application process.

He said right now, only the state Department of Agriculture and higher education institutions are authorized to grow hemp in West Virginia.

“It's been the victim of some mischaracterization,” Shott said. “It appears most of the problem is its similarity to marijuana. It's a different breed of cannabis. The key is that the THC content of industrial hemp is very low. It's about 0.2 to 0.3 percent compared to 3 to 15 percent in marijuana. Basically, you can smoke all the hemp you want and the worst that can happen is you get a headache.”

Shott said hemp has been classified as marijuana but is grown all over the world as an industrial product used in clothing, biofuels, plastic composites and health foods.

“My suggestion is we look at it further to loosen restriction further,” Shott said. “This offers an enormous opportunity for commercial activity in our area.”

Earlier this year, Kentucky began to expand growth of industrial hemp, approving 209 applicants to grow the roughly 12,800 acres of the plant. The state is one of seven to approve both research and commercial programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

At least 30 states have passed legislation relating to industrial hemp farming, 16 have legalized commercial production and 20 have passed laws allowing research and pilot programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania approved 16 growing and research projects for the plant.

Hemp Map

Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, said the bill would be good to diversify the economy, especially in southern West Virginia, mentioning the possibility of growing hemp on post mine sites.

Delegate Carol Miller, R-Cabell, also spoke in favor of the bill.

“The agriculture committee has worked for years to expand whatever business that we can in our state,” Miller said. “This has been very, very successful in the state of Kentucky. I'm very glad to have this bill.”

All 98 members present voted for the bill.

Lannom writes for the Beckley, West Virginia Register-Herald.

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