Georgia Unprepared For Hemp Provisions In The 2018 Farm Bill

Our email has blown up since the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill.  Dozens of emails wanting information on how to apply for licensing, where to get seeds, is it legal in Georgia now.  I’ve had to be the bearer of bad news.  I thought I’d write a little about this situation and how it came about.

Fear and Loathing In The Peach State

While Kentucky got on board with the Hemp Program outlined in the 2014 Farm Bill, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia (along with 13 other states) ignored Federal law and licensed growers to produce industrial hemp for commercial purposes in 2017.

Meanwhile, Georgia has dragged its feet about Hemp because of the fear of the slippery slope of marijuana.  Law enforcement is afraid of someone using their hemp to hide a marijuana grow.  They have lobbied against ANY type of cannabis cultivation in the state, including that for the CBD/low-thc oil that Georgia has legalized as medicine.

Thus Georgia was woefully unprepared for passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.  In order for us to legally plant seeds, Georgia law must change.  Currently, there is no differentiation between Hemp and Marijuana in Georgia law.  Growing cannabis is illegal, period.

In order for a state to legally grow hemp under the Farm Bill, that state must submit a regulatory framework for their hemp program to the USDA.   Hemp is not even defined in Georgia law.   All cannabis is considered marijuana.

Therefore, we will have to build the Federally required regulatory framework from scratch.  Some of the groundwork has been laid, but the word Hemp only appears once in Georgia law, and that is in a law prohibiting the sale or possession of marijuana or hemp flavored candies.

Personally, I don’t see us putting seeds in the ground until 2020, if then.  That Regulatory Framework I mentioned has to be coordinated with the Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner, and the Governor.  It’s going to be a lot of work.

The Industrial Hemp Study Committee Report

The Georgia House Study Committee on Industrial Hemp met several times during the 2018 legislative recess.  Their final report can be viewed HERE.   Their recommendations can be found on page 6 and 7.  In part, they state “At a minimum, a pilot program within the bounds of the 2014 Agricultural Act” should be implemented, but due to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, “Georgia should take steps to prepare a larger program that fits within the guidelines of that act”.

Really?  Really?  Look, I’m not putting any of the folks on this study committee down.  As a matter of fact, I applaud the work they did, but we had the opportunity to do this in the past and had our legislators not been so afraid of someone getting high in Georgia, we could have been ready for the Farm Bill.

The History

In the 2015 – 2016 session, Representative John Pezold sponsored House Bill  704, which would have provided for industrial hemp cultivation in Georgia under the guidelines of the 2014 Agricultural Act.  My friend and partner  James Bell (RIP) helped Pezold draft that bill.  It was co-sponsored by House Agricultural Committee Chair Representative Tom McCall, among others.   It never got a hearing.  Why?  My guess is Reefer Madness.  The bill carried over to the 2016 – 2017 legislative session, but once again didn’t get a hearing.

In the 2017 – 2018 session, Representative Pezold sponsored House Bill 465, which would have created the Georgia Industrial Hemp Commission.  Once again, Representative McCall co-sponsored and Representative Allen Peake, of Haleigh’s Hope Act (HB1) fame, also co-sponsored among others.  Once again, the bill never got a hearing.  Had that bill passed into law, Georgia would have the necessary regulatory framework in place to comply with the requirements in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Also in the 2017 – 2018 session, Representative Heath Clark sponsored House Resolution 340, urging our United States Congressional Representatives to consider legislation on policies for hemp and marijuana.  Representatives Peake co-sponsored, among others.  That resolution passed the House, but it was a Resolution, not a Bill, so it wasn’t law.

So What’s Next?

As I said, this could have already been done.  Georgia could be submitting its Letters of Compliance.  It wasn’t, so we have to move on.  I urge everyone who reads this to contact their State Senator and Representative, expressing your displeasure that we’ve been left in the wake of our neighboring states in the Southeast.  Talk to your neighbors and get them to do the same.  Urge them to get on the Industrial Hemp bandwagon and get this done.  If you don’t know who your legislators are, you can find out HERE.

Georgia is a glaring, white patch of empty in a forest of green in the southeast portion of Hemptopia’s State Hemp Legislation Map.  It’s past time to fill it in and return hemp to Georgia’s AG economy.

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