Friday, March 10, 2017

Cop organizations block Kansas farmers' hemp crop bonanza

  by Dane Hicks, The Anderson County Review, Garnett, Kan.

 A curious spotlight is turning on the Kansas Peace Officers Association and the Kansas Sheriff’s Association in their opposition to legalizing industrial hemp in Kansas.

What is being illuminated is an embarrassing question: Why is it cops in a couple dozen states and numerous other countries which have legalized hemp for agricultural use can tell it from its cousin marijuana, but apparently Kansas law officers can’t?

That seems to be the big rub in Kansas law enforcement’s opposition to House Bill 2182, which would legalize industrial hemp and allow it to be cropped by Kansas farmers during a time when farmers need all the help they can get due to low commodity prices. Police and sheriff’s associations in Kansas seem resolute in their opposition: that they cannot tell spindly-looking hemp from stouter marijuana plants, and that they apparently cannot ever learn the difference.

Backgrounder: Industrial hemp is defined by having only 0.3 percent or less THC – the drug in pot that gets you stoned – compared to marijuana plants that contain concentrations of some 18%-30% of the drug. You could smoke a bale of industrial hemp and never want a single Dorito.

Identifying hemp doesn’t seem so complicated to cops in non-Sunflower State jurisdictions. The National Conference on State Legislatures notes hemp is grown for its thinner, more fibrous stalk and its seeds. “The plant is cultivated to grow taller, denser and with a single stalk. Marijuana, grown for the budding flowers, tends to be grown shorter, bushier and well-spaced.”

But Kansas law officers won’t budge, so Kansas farmers remain locked out of a market other states are developing, aiming to feed an estimated $600 million to $2 billion annual U.S. market for hemp products – most of which is now being provided to the American market by Canadian growers and processors.

See, you can buy hemp-based snacks, clothes, hemp oil dietary goods, beauty products, paper, textiles and construction materials to your heart’s content in Kansas or anywhere else in the country – and lots of people do – they’re as legal as a Snickers bar and a 7Up. But until 2014 it was illegal to grow or process hemp in the U.S.  For decades all those U.S. purchases funded growers overseas.

The 2014 Farm Bill legalized research and commercial use in states that approved it. So far, 16 states have approved commercial growing and 20 have approved pilot and research programs aimed at eventually giving their farmers the advantage of a new cash crop. Kansas could have harvested its first hemp crop ever this very year – except the same law officers’ organizations last year shot down enabling legislation by spooking distracted legislators with the hemp ID worry.

Not only does growing the product hold promise of more revenues for Kansas farmers, but processing facilities that turn the plant stems into fiber and which extract oil from the seeds also offer economic benefit through jobs and local tax base development. They could be constructed and operated by local commercial developers or by farmers’ cooperatives that would then direct those revenues back into their own communities via sales and dividends. Farmers’ fields as well as processing facilities can be easily inspected by authorities and fees charged to license them.

And if farmers and local businesses benefit, so do cops. More jobs and legitimate money in a market typically means less street crime; a richer tax base means less resistance to funding public services like police and sheriff’s offices. Kansans as a whole respect and honor the abilities and duties performed by their law enforcement – all you have to do is look at various support efforts and blue lights on people’s porches in the state. No one wants to legalize hemp to give cops a harder time.

What this spotlight on the cops shows is that their opposition to hemp most likely isn’t really based in some concern about identifying the plants. It’s most likely based in group-think fostered by a professional culture that has been anti-marijuana since the 1930s. In cops’ minds, hemp is pot, regardless of the science that proves otherwise.

That’s unfortunate, because it places those we trust to protect and serve in the position of hurting Kansas farmers and thwarting jobs in the communities they call home.

–Dane Hicks is publisher of The Anderson County Review in Garnett, Ks., and can be reached at

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