Hemp bill moves to full Senate vote


Friday, May 2
BENNINGTON — A bill that would make hemp a legal crop in Vermont moved through the Senate Thursday after proponents of the bill spent weeks pressuring legislators to pass it.

Amy Shollenberger, director of Rural Vermont, a farm advocacy group, said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had not allowed the bill to be taken up by the Senate, despite passing by a wide margin in the House, until Thursday.

Allowed bill to reach floor

But after meeting with leading supporters of the bill, Sears agreed to allow the bill to go to a vote in his committee and reach the Senate floor.

"Sen. Sears was really great in the meeting and said that he understood that people wanted the bill to move and was willing to make that happen," Shollenberger said. "He's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary, and he's been sitting on the bill for several weeks."

Supporters of the bill are hoping to establish policies and procedures for growing industrial hemp in Vermont so farmers and other businesses can market the crop if the federal government changes regulations to permit it. Current federal regulations prohibit growing hemp.

Shollenberger said the bill, modeled after a North Dakota law, has strict guidelines to regulate the crop such as background checks before a growing license is granted. The bill also designates which parts of plant can be used in commerce and which parts must be destroyed.

Hemp crops must follow international standards and contain less than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that is also contained in hemp.

"If you smoked a plant with that level, you would only get a migraine headache; you would not get high and there was clear testimony to that effect," Shollenberger said.

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Hemp would help Vermont farmers and businesses because the crop can be used in a variety of products. Hemp is widely grown and sold through the world, according to Shollenberger, but not here.

"The United States is the only industrial country in the world that doesn't allow this crop to be grown," she said. "Looking at the Canadian experience, it's a high return for the farmer. It's a high yield crop and it's a great crop to mix in with corn."

Sears said Thursday that he had received about 150 calls urging him to support the bill, and many letters to the editor have appeared in Vermont newspapers. He decided to move the bill through his committee after offering an amendment.

"My concern with the bill is that it basically requires the federal government to agree with it, and the federal government is not going to agree with it," he said. "I don't want our farmers having drug busters coming in from the feds and making an example. That's been my concern about this all along. I understand the support for it, but we are still part of the United States. We're sworn to uphold the Constitution."

Sears said hisamendmentwould requirethe federalgovernmentto changethe definitionof marijuana, which prohibits the growing of hemp, before the law would take effect.

"The proponents of the bill have agreed with me that this is probably a wise thing to do," he said.

Sears said he expected the bill to be taken up on the Senate floor by Thursday evening or Friday morning.

If the bill makes it through the Senate successfully and is signed by Gov. James Douglas, Rural Vermont and other supporters will turn their attention on Congress.

"Rural Vermont has been working on this bill ... for several years now. This particular version we've been working on for the last three years," she said. "We will contact our congressional delegation and say there is clearly strong support in the state for this."


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