Will A License Help Distinguish Hemp from Weed?

Hemp has not been grown legally in the US since 1958, though some farmers have tried small scale plots. Credit: sareoutreach via Flickr

Hemp has not been grown legally in the US since 1958, though some farmers have tried small scale plots. Credit: sareoutreach via Flickr

A new wrinkle has emerged over whether Tennessee farmers can legally grow hemp: If you’re growing without a permit, how will authorities know you’re not actually growing weed?

Rep. Jeremy Faison thinks this could be a real problem. After a bill passed both chambers legalizing the cultivation of industrial hemp, Faison, the bill’s original sponsor, now wants to make it easier for authorities to prosecute those who might stretch the law.

“Law enforcement is going to reckon that you’re growing marijuana if you don’t have a permit,” Faison said on the floor of the House of Representatives on Monday.

Under the proposal, growers will have to get certified seeds and a growing permit from the state’s Department of Agriculture.

But as long as a grower is bearing a license, the state will be just fine with growing hemp for things like clothes, footwear, paper, plastics and food — among sundry other uses.

Backing up the change, Rep. Andy Holt said while hemp and marijuana are radically different plants, the leaves of the two are nearly indistinguishable when grown naturally.

Possession of marijuana in Tennessee is a misdemeanor punishable with jail time.

For years, the federal government has treated hemp, which contains just trace amounts of THC, the same as cannabis. But in the federal farm bill signed by President Barack Obama in February, hemp is now legal in states that allow it for agricultural or academic purposes. And advocates rejoiced.

If lawmakers agree to the regulations, Tennessee will become the tenth state to adopt laws allowing commercial hemp to be grown.

Lawmakers on Monday said since hemp has been banned for 80 years in Tennessee, completely relaxing the law would provoke confusion for regulators and growers.

On Tuesday, lawmakers will continue discussion on the hemp bill.

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