CARSON CITY, NV. 22 May, 2015 — Nevada farmers could begin growing industrial hemp as soon as January 2016, after state lawmakers voted unanimously (41-0) to approve Senate Bill 305 on Friday. Governor Brian Sandoval (R), who signed medical marijuana reform into law in 2013, is expected to approve the bill.
The new hemp farming law joins other measures moving Nevada toward full participation in the emerging cannabis and hemp industries. Cannabis legalization will be on the state’s November 2016 ballot.
Nevada’s new program is modeled on Kentucky’s, redefining industrial hemp as an agricultural crop and establishing licensing regulations for cultivation. States that have legalized industrial hemp are permitted, through provisions in The Federal Farm Bill (February 2014), to operate hemp farming pilot programs for the purposes of research and development. Kentucky, which has declared its intention to become the industry leader, got its pilot program under way last year and the state is growing its second hemp crop in 2015.
State senator Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) who sponsored S.B. 305, said hemp “uses half the water that alfalfa does, so it would be a great product for rural Nevada.” Segerblom also authored S.B. 374 which established medical marijuana dispensary regulations in 2013.
Farmers in rural Nevada have welcomed the change. At present many grow alfalfa, which makes about $100 per acre-foot of water ( the determinant used to assess crop and business viability in the desert region). According to UNLV soil and water scientist Dale Devitt, outdoor hemp and indoor cannabis could become Nevada’s most valuable water-efficient cash crops.
U.S. consumer demand for hemp products has grown rapidly over the past decade. The market was worth $640 million in 2014, but all the commercial hemp fiber and oil used in these products has to be imported, leaving American farmers out in the cold. Farmers in the 20 states that have now legalized hemp hope to exploit that ready-made market and make the U.S. one of the world’s leading growers of premium industrial hemp once again.