A bill making its way through the South Carolina Statehousewould legalize growing industrial hemp in the state. Hemp is the same speciesof plant as marijuana, so it was outlawed when marijuana was.
But botanist Dr. John Nelson at the University of SouthCarolina Herbarium says, "There's definitely a genetic difference betweenthe industrial fiber source and what people are growing for the drug use,whether it's legal or illegal. The thing is, it's the same species but therecan be some pretty profound genetic differences."
Hemp contains only small amounts of THC,tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the mind-altering chemical found in marijuana.Dr. Nelson says, "If there was a field of this industrial hemp plant, youcan't really get high from smoking that anyway, just because there's not muchof the compound within the foliage."
Industrial hemp is useful for its stalk and fibersthroughout the plant, while marijuana is used just for its leaves and buds.
The bill at the Statehouse is sponsored by two of the mostconservative senators there, Republicans Kevin Bryant of Anderson and LeeBright of Spartanburg. But supporters say besides the fact that industrial hempis different from marijuana, it could also mean big bucks for the state if it'slegalized.
Wayne Borders, president of the state chapter of NORML, theNational Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says, "The HempIndustries Association has actually estimated for 2012 that the retail value ofhemp in the United States that was sold and transferred was about $500billion." Since it's illegal to grow hemp in most states, most of thatmoney went to other countries.
Ten states have already legalized growing hemp: California,Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington,and West Virginia. Eleven others, including South Carolina, have bills pendingto legalize it.
Hemp can be used for: food, like hemp seeds and proteinpowders; fibers to make clothing, shoes, and jewelry; bio-fuels; and in thebuilding industry, since hemp can be used to make insulation and its fibers canbe used to strengthen other building materials.
Pee Dee senators say some farmers who are growing lesstobacco are interested in growing industrial hemp.
The bill was passed by a Senate subcommittee Thursday. Thatmeans it now goes to full committee. If it passes there it goes on to the fullSenate and then on to the House.
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