AUSTIN, TEXAS: 17 April, 2015 –Texas farmers eager to grow hemp aren’t celebrating victory just yet, but the beer is on ice. Their long battle for the right to grow industrial hemp just got a boost, with Austin-based Whole Foods Market publicly endorsing HB 1322, a bill which would legalize hemp as a crop for Texas farmers, ending decades of campaigning by agricultural organizations, business leaders, and activists.
The historic bill is currently awaiting a vote in the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee. A companion bill, HB 557 which legalizes hemp for research purposes, has already passed the committee in a unanimous vote. The win was described by Coleman Hemphill, the Marketing Director of the Texas Hemp Industries Association (TXHIA) as “a great step forward.” However HB 1322 was opposed in the same committee hearing by Sheriff Will Travis of Denton County who confused hemp with marijuana.
Hemp grows readily in most soil and consumes only half the water of cotton while producing 250 percent more fiber. As an industrial crop it is legal to cultivate in 21 states, but only three have made an industry of it. According to Kate Neu, a representative of Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain “offers several hundred hemp items from well over 100 brands in grocery and Whole Body. It’s a major growth category and we expect our customers in Texas would respond well – like customers in our other regions have – if hemp products were made available in our TX stores.”
Local programs are a top priority for Whole Foods Market, which currently imports most of its hemp products. The grocer is interested in purchasing from hemp growers right in their own back yard. Few states have as much suitable land and the rural labor force Texas could bring to legal hemp farming. The potential to re-invigorate small family farms and create much-needed jobs in the rural sector is not lost on lawmakers, who have overwhelmingly supported both bills.
HB 557 now awaits a vote in the Texas House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass. The bill will then move on to the Texas Senate before reaching the governor’s desk. According to the TXHIA, legalizing research without enabling the Texas Department of Agriculture to legally bring viable seed to the state through HB 1322 “…is like being given a gun with no bullets.”
Former governor, Rick Perry opposed cannabis reform. Now-governor Greg Abbott has also indicated that bills supporting compassionate medical marijuana and cannabis decriminalization will not pass in 2015. However, the governor has shied away from firm statements about the hemp bills. Lone Star State farmers remain on tenterhooks, waiting to see if their governor will use his veto power to nip their hopes for hemp-driven prosperity in the bud.