SAINT PAUL, MN. 6 May, 2015 — A massive majority (110-18) of Minnesota House lawmakers voted in favor of industrial hemp cultivation in Minnesota when House File 1437 was approved on Tuesday. An hemp-specific amendment to the bill was also approved (89-37), allowing the state to conduct industrial hemp research and empowering the Department of Agriculture to issue licenses for cultivation – just as soon the federal government legalizes the crop. Funding of $1 million would for the Agriculture Department to supervise hemp farming for approved research projects, with the intention of eventually licensing widespread hemp production.
Despite overwhelming support, the bill was promptly “tabled” in the Senate after its first reading. The motion came from Senate Majority Leader Thomas Bakk and will delay the bill’s advancement indefinitely. One of the bill’s strong supporters, Sen. Kent Eken,( D) said growing hemp would especially benefit farmers in his area of northwestern Minnesota and businesses making diverse products like clothing, paper, and skin lotions. Some $625 million worth of hemp products are made just over the border in Canada and then sold in the United States. The senator said that manufacturing plants would sprout in Minnesota if hemp were allowed.
Law enforcement has traditionally been opposed to legalizing hemp, claiming it looks too much like its close cousin cannabis, which could be easily hidden within a hemp field. Farmers disagree. Thom Petersen of Minnesota Farmers Union said that when Canada legalized hemp years ago people used to steal it out of fields. Petersen said the thieves were disappointed when they tried to smoke it and did not get high. After a year or so, they gave up and farmer have grown the crop with few incidents since.
A long-standing opponent of hemp cultivation, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R) believes the state will find itself on a slippery slope if hemp is legalized. “Honestly, I have not had a bunch of farmers come through my door …and say we need this commodity in Minnesota,” Ingebrigtsen said several weeks ago when the bill was being discussed before a committee. “To me, it is baby steps toward recreational marijuana,” Ingebrigtsen said.
Committee Chairman David Tomassoni (D) Tomassoni said that testimony in his committee showed that hemp and marijuana are not compatible growing near each other, so he does not see the connection Ingebrigtsen is making.
More than three quarters of Minnesotans favor the legalization of medical marijuana, according to a January poll commissioned by the Minnesota chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Randy Quast, founding board member of MN NORML said: “More Minnesotans now support legalizing the plant than endorse maintaining the status quo, criminalization, and a super-majority of Minnesotans want patients to have far broader access to the plant for therapeutic purposes than is presently provided by state lawmakers.”