JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi is looking at the pros and cons of growing hemp. The 2018 federal Farm Bill legalized cultivation of industrial hemp in all 50 states, but now it’s up to the states to decide if they’ll allow it.
The hemp cultivation task force will get in the weeds to figure out how it could help or hurt if the state gave hemp cultivation the green light. The first step is clearing up any confusion.
“We are not talking about growing marijuana," explained Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson. "Marijuana is a different animal. We’re not legalizing marijuana.”
But that also leads us one of the potential concerns from law enforcement.
“There’s no way to distinguish either by sight or smell between hemp plants and marijuana plants,” noted Department of Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher.
The difference is that hemp contains no more than 0.3 percent of THC, the property that makes people high. The field tests available to law enforcement only test for the presence of THC but not the exact level. The same is true for K9s. They’re training to alert for THC.
“We’d have to send those things to the crime lab," said Fisher. "We’re already behind about 400 drug exhibits a month.”
One presentation also indicated hemp is a risky crop to grow. But farmers like B.C. Hammond say it’s a risk they are willing to explore.
“It’ll allow, especially like me, a small farmer that doesn’t have thousands of acres an opportunity to keep small family farms alive throughout Mississippi,” explained Hammond, a Sunflower County farmer.
“USDA has yet to finalize its rules," said Gipson. "So, we’re operating at the same time. We think we can take advantage of that and come up with some of the best proposals in the country for the 2020 growing season.”
This task force will turn over recommendations and the legislature will then have to decide next session if they’re willing to allow hemp cultivation in the state.