Why no hemp in Tennessee? Group wants state to legalize farming, manufacturing

Gary B. Gray • Jan 21, 2014 at 4:02 PM

The Hemp Industries Association announced last week the establishment of the Tennessee Hemp Industries Association, the national organization’s first state chapter.

This year, the group plans to launch education initiatives to support legalizing industrial hemp farming and industries in the state, and to facilitate a hemp business resource network. The push is aimed at legalizing the plant for agriculture and industrial uses and not necessarily a cry for the right to partake of its smokeable parts.

“The grass roots movement to legalize industrial hemp is quickly gaining momentum, especially at the state level, as business, agriculture and manufacturing sectors realize the value and versatility of this incredible crop,” Hemp Industries Association Executive Director Eric Steenstra said in a news release. “We hope to see more local state chapters partner with the HIA, so we can collaborate and work together toward making hemp farming a reality for farmers across the country.”

The move dovetails with an ever-increasing national conversation on the use of marijuana and its byproducts for medicinal and recreational purposes.

The topic also has bubbled up on a state level. State Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, introduced legislation that would allow statewide legal protections for qualified patients authorized by their physicians to engage in cannabis therapy.

After reading about the bill, Washington County Commissioner and Public Safety Committee member Roger Nave announced his intention to introduce a resolution to the full commission in February in opposition to the bill.

A few weeks before that happens, a growing number of people in the area plan to march down State of Franklin Road in the Smokey Mountain Medical Marijuana Rights Rally to show their support for the bill that would legalize prescribing cannabis to qualifying patients.

Colleen Sauve, Tennessee’s HIA chapter founding member, represented the state affiliate on “hemp lobby day” in December by visiting U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and his staff in his Capitol Building office to discuss opportunities for hemp in Tennessee.

“There is much work to be done in Tennessee to prepare our local farming and business sectors for the economic boom industrial hemp legalization will bring,” Sauve said. “We aim to provide resources and information to all those looking to grow, manufacture or sell hemp and hemp products as well as catalyze support for industrial hemp legalization throughout the state.”

The Tennessee HIA will launch a fundraising campaign in the spring in an effort to bolster its status as a strong trade association in support of future hemp industries in the state. Having the HIA as the backbone to the state initiative will aid business and opportunity in Tennessee’s future, Sauve said.

To date, 32 states have introduced pro-hemp legislation and 10 states have removed barriers to its production: California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

Despite changes to state laws allowing hemp, farmers in these states risk raids by federal agents, prison time and land forfeiture if they plant the crop. The association hopes to change federal laws on the books that do not distinguish between cannabis byproducts, such as oilseed and fiber, from chemical substances that affect brain function.

For more information about hemp, go to www.TheHIA.org or www.VoteHemp.com.

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