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By Lexi Browning For West Virginia Press Association
CHARLESTON — The Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee on Wednesday passed a resolution to redefine the federal definition of industrial hemp.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 35, which aimed to increase production of industrial hemp with stronger concentrations of hemp seed oil, was sponsored by Sen. Sue Cline, R-Wyoming, and co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia. The resolution passed unanimously.
Sen. Cline said the resolution had previously failed to gain traction because its text could be construed as a “gateway” to legalizing marijuana.
“This text just says that we have two farms in West Virginia right now and that if we can expand this market and have more farms in our state, we can make more jobs and have more products produced,” Cline said.
“Years ago we had a great market in our state and we want to bring that back because that’s more jobs for our farms. That’s all we’re allowing them to do: just have more hemp farms and grow more crops.”
Sen. Beach noted that the hemp industry and medical/recreational marijuana “are not the same thing.”
Don Smith II of Standard Agriculture, also known as “STAG,” said he attended the committee meeting to ensure the resolution passed without complication.
Smith also said the state’s investment in the industrial hemp industry could promote employment and boost the economy in idle areas throughout the Mountain State.
“We’ve got processes planned to use the whole plant and monetize the entirety of it,” Smith said. “All other industries in the free states discard the plant after getting the one product out of the harvest, but we’re going to use it all.”
Smith said the industrialized plant could be broken down into hemp seeds as “superfoods,” which provide a healthy dose of protein when consumed, oils for beauty products, and utilize the fibrous portions for paper, fabric, textiles, garmets and hemp plastics that “offer superior performance and are biodegradable.”
Differentiating industrial hemp from medical and recreational marijuana is a necessity, Smith said. Industrial hemp, he said, “will not get you high.”
“The best analogy I can offer is that the difference between field corn that you feed livestock and sweet corn that you put on the dinner table: it looks the same and comes up looking the same, but they’re two different corns,” Smith said. “One corn is dried out and the other is picked fresh and eaten. There are a multitude of different cultivars of corn and a multitude of different cannabis types.”
Smith, does, however, have an option on the medical and the recreational marijuana movements.
Smith said he was nudged into supporting all realms of the cannabis industry after witnessing his wife’s struggle with multiple sclerosis. Her medication, he said, exceeded $8,000 monthly.
“It took 10 minutes of research to figure out that it works effectively for MS,” Smith said. “Marijuana also treats multitude of other illnesses and works well for them.
When it comes to recreational marijuana: “I see West Virginia as the Napa Valley of wine but for marijuana. We’ve got a sweet spot with the hills, the climate, the rain and a little cool weather. All of this agrees well with the plant.”
Smith said weather and climate conditions in West Virginia would be ideal for growing organic medical and recreational marijuana that could attract aficionados from across the globe.
“They could spend the money in tourism and settle down with a fine strand of marijuana just as they would with wine in California, France or Italy,” Smith said.
“Aficionados spend money on that kind of thing, and we could dominate that field. But, it’s all politics. That’s what brought me here today: to make sure the politics were on the right track.”
The committee also amended Senate Bill 283, sponsored by Sen. Ronald Miller, D-Greenbrier, known as the Creating Food Production Act.
Miller said he initially wanted to study the existing food production system and attempt to tidy up and streamline the process between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Resources.
“I think it benefits food manufacturers if it were to pass since you’d just have a central place and all the rules would be located in one area,” Miller said. “In food production, in one shop, you could have one person looking at your ice cream machine and another looking at your dairy production and someone else looking at bread production.”
Miller said he also hoped to utilize the labs in the Department of Agriculture through the study.
“A few years ago I asked folks in agriculture, and they weren’t too fond of it because of the extra work and extra staff,” Miller said. “I entered the bill last year and it didn’t go anywhere, but this year the chairman sent it to a subcommittee so we can talk about it. It’ll be studied this summer, which is a positive note.”
Regardless of the bill’s passage, Miller said he hoped the approved study could provide him with the answer he seeks.
“It’s more efficient in my mind, but it may not be more efficient at all: The key is to study and determine if we have the capacity to do it,” Miller said.