Tennessee farmers are a signature away from growing industrial hemp after a bill allowing it sailed through the state Senate Wednesday afternoon.
That's not to be confused with marijuana — hemp's psychoactive cousin. Hemp is the stuff of shoes, rope, paper and plastics. Health-food enthusiasts eat its seeds for protein and omega-3 fats. All are money-making products that prompted Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, to champion growing it here. At least nine other states have industrial hemp laws.
The bill passed after amendments defining industrial hemp and requiring the Department of Agriculture to start writing rules 120 days after passage. It now will go to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature.
When Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey opened the floor for Niceley to discuss his bill, the senator merely moved for passage, which he got: 29 ayes, 0 nays.
"I figured this one you'd want to talk about," Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said, drawing chuckles from legislators.
Other than the governor's signature, another hurdle is U.S. policy, which basically treats hemp as a controlled substance. States that remove hemp bans will be closer to capitalizing on the crop if the federal government reconsiders its stance, said Tom Murphy, spokesman for the national Vote Hemp group.