NE: Omaha Partner In Hemp-Processing Firm Urges Lawmakers To OK Plant's Farming

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Katelyn Baker

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Lincoln – Hemp may grow wild across Nebraska, but if you want to make clothing or other products out of the industrial cousin of marijuana, you'll have to buy it cultivated from Canada.

John Lupien of Omaha, a founding partner in a hemp processing company called BastCore, said Tuesday he would prefer to buy industrial hemp from Nebraska farmers. The market, while still developing in the United States, does exist, he added.

"Well, that brings us to the problem, we can't grow here in Nebraska," said Lupien, whose startup near Plattsmouth will soon process hemp fibers for outdoor clothing giant Patagonia, along with another hemp product that will be sold to oil and gas drillers.

He was one of about half a dozen people who testified in support of a bill that would allow hemp farming in Nebraska during a public hearing in the Legislature's Agriculture Committee. Opposition to Legislative Bill 617 came in the form of letters from the Nebraska State Patrol and the Department of Agriculture.

Although industrial hemp contains so little of the high-inducing compound THC that it has no value on the black market, the federal government still classifies it as a controlled substance.

"There is potential criminal liability for industrial hemp growers under ... federal money-laundering laws," said the letter from Greg Ibach, director of the Ag Department.

The 2014 federal farm bill permits universities and state ag departments to cultivate hemp for research. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln planted its first research test plot last year, which was allowed under a 2014 state law adopted by the Legislature.

The bill introduced by State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha would create an industrial hemp commission, under the authority of the Agriculture Department, to regulate hemp production for research and commercial development.

The bill calls for licensing fees to be paid by producers and for the inspection of fields to help ensure that marijuana isn't being grown alongside hemp.

Hemp is a plant that historically was grown legally in Nebraska, Wayne said. The seeds, flowers, fiber and wood of the plant all have commercial applications, including medicines, body lotion, plastics, biofuels and construction materials.

"Our farmers can't grow that product, although it's sold in Nebraska," Wayne said. "I do not think that's right."

Other states allow farmers to grow hemp, Wayne said. In recent years, Kentucky has seen hemp production grow to more than 2,000 acres and 500 jobs.

To the best of his knowledge, Wayne said, federal law enforcement officials have taken no enforcement actions against growers in Kentucky.

Although the Nebraska bill requires inspections of hemp operations, the State Patrol's crime lab has no way of testing cannabis plants to measure THC levels, said Col. Brad Rice, the patrol's superintendent. Such testing is typically done by private labs.

"This could invite individuals, businesses or criminal elements to invest in hemp growing operations in Nebraska for illicit purposes," Rice said in his letter.



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Full Article: Omaha Partner In Hemp-Processing Firm Urges Lawmakers To OK Plant's Farming
Author: Joe Duggan
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Photo Credit: Kent Sievers
Website: Omaha World-Herald