Sarah Stephens, president of the KS Hemp Consortium and CEO of Midwest Hemp Technology, said many people were confused about hemp products. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Industrial hemp could open up new pastures for Kansas, said industry professionals urging lawmakers to loosen regulatory measures they believe gave a chilling effect on the business.
Sarah Stephens, president of the KS Hemp Consortium and CEO of Midwest Hemp Technology, companies focused on production and processing of hemp grown for fiber and grain, said people had a lot of misconceptions about the plant.
“It’s straight up reefer madness in there,” Stephens said.
While industrial hemp is the same species as marijuana, hemp contains 0.3% or less of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces a “high.” Hemp-derived products don’t produce the same effect as marijuana due to this low THC concentration.
In Kansas, cannabis with a percentage of THC above 0.3% is considered to be marijuana.
During a Wednesday House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee hearing, Stephens was one of several Kansans who spoke in support of a proposal that would lower license and registration fees for industrial hemp growers, extend licensing and registration time frames and exempt industrial hemp processors from fingerprinting and background check requirements.
The proposal, House Bill 2168 was introduced by Republican Reps. Tory Marie Blew and Kristey Williams. The bill would also allow hemp fiber, grain and seeds to be used as food for pets, poultry and livestock.
“If we want Kansans to have an opportunity to expand an industry, if we want Kansans to try new types of crops and new innovations, then we need to really look at what types of regulatory environments we have,” Williams said, testifying in support of the bill.
Cultivation of industrial hemp in the state has been legal since 2018, but industrial hemp growers say the strict application process and high fees block many would-be manufacturers from entering the field.
Kansans who want to cultivate or produce industrial hemp have to get an industrial hemp producer license from the Kansas Department of Agriculture, with applications due by March 15 every year. People who want to process hemp have to also register with the State Fire Marshal’s office.
The industrial hemp application requires a fingerprint-based state and federal criminal history check. The license application fee is $100 and the license fee itself is $1,200, according to the KDA website.
Rep. Tobias Schlingensiepen, a Topeka Democrat, questioned why hemp growers needed to be fingerprinted in the first place.
“If you grow corn, you can make moonshine out of it,” Schlingensiepen said. “So why aren’t we fingerprinting corn growers? This all just sounds really paranoid to me.”
Robert Jacobs, executive officer of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, spoke against the bill and defended the mandated background check, though he supported reducing the amount of times each applicant got fingerprinted.
Jacobs said the fingerprinting part of the application was necessary to determine who should have a license.
“We still need to identify for the integrity of the program, who should not even be in this program at all,” Jacobs said. “Do they already have a felony that would prohibit them from being involved with tetrahydrocannabinol?”
Kansas Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kelsey Olson also spoke against the bill. Olson said the health impact of using hemp in animal feed was unknown, and research hadn’t been done on the effect hemp had on animals and people who consumed the animals or animal product.
“HB 2168 would reduce KDA’s ability to administer the existing industrial hemp program and could place the large economic drivers of the meat and dairy industry in jeopardy by reducing the ability to sell our products in interstate commerce,” Olson said.
The KDA estimated the bill would result in $367,837 of additional fee fund expenditures in FY 2024 and afterward. The breakdown of this estimate included $270,433 in new employee positions for registering and reviewing new hemp products and $86,250 to administer 88 additional tetrahydrocannabinol tests at $300 per sample, among other expenses.
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