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Bill aims to separate state's hemp industry from legal marijuana
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Bill aims to separate state's hemp industry from legal marijuana

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Bitterroot Hemp Co-op plants seeds for new Ag industry

Hemp at mid-season in Stevensville.

With marijuana now legalized for recreational use in Montana, a Fort Benton lawmaker is advancing legislation intended to protect the state’s industrial hemp crop from running afoul of federal law.

Republican Rep. Josh Kassmier told a Senate panel that his bill would automatically align the definition of hemp in Montana with that of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ensuring the state’s hemp farmers retain access to interstate commerce and banks.

Hemp is a close relative of marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law and is thus excluded from those opportunities.

“This will help continue to further our production of hemp in the state as a high-value commodity,” said Rachel Prevost, a lobbyist for the Montana Farmers Union.

The state’s current definition of hemp is limited to plants containing no more than 0.3% THC, the main high-producing compound found in marijuana. While that is currently in line with federal regulations, the state Agricultural Sciences Division administrator said federal law now allows for more variance when those crops are tested for THC content — up to 1%.

Montana Department of Agriculture attorney Cort Jensen told committee members that the state already produces a wide range of hemp products.

“From the bouquet for weddings, the seeds for both salad toppings and grain trade, some people are harvesting the stocks for fiber … some people boil the flowers down for CBD distilling,” Jensen said. “So pretty much all parts of the hemp trade have occurred in Montana.”

Kassmier added that failing to make the change to state law could effectively shut down the state’s hemp industry if federal law changes, forcing farmers to wait out the two-year period between legislative sessions to resume business.

Montana is among the top hemp-producing states in the U.S.

The committee did not immediately take action on House Bill 142. It cleared the House on a 96-4 vote last month.

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