In the last few days of the 2014 legislative session, hemp was on the minds of some Michigan lawmakers. The Senate Agriculture Committee today passed a pair of bills designed to empower hemp production in the Great Lakes State.
Steven Sharpe, a Board member with the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and a longtime hemp advocate, testified at the committee hearing and reported the results. Hemp is genetically distinct from, but taxonomically identical to, marijuana. It is a non-intoxicating industrial plant that yields food, fuel and fiber when harvested.
A pair of hemp legalization bills were introduced to the Michigan legislature in 2014. HB 5439 would establish the criteria necessary for Michigan universities and Agencies to participate in the federal hemp cultivation program outlined in the Agriculture Bill, signed this year in Michigan by President Obama. HB 5439 was sponsored by Rep. Kevin Daley and passed in the House with a unanimous vote on May 22.
The companion bill, HB 5440, was sponsored by Rep. Peter Pettalia and features an astounding 64 sponsors. More than half of all Michigan House Representatives signed on to sponsor this hemp bill. It removes hemp from the designation of an illegal substance by segregating it from marijuana in the criminal code based on chemical composition: hemp is defined as cannabis sativa L. with THC concentration of 0.3%or less. This bill passed the House with a 108-1 vote.
WILL THE LAME DUCK LIKE HEMP?
With only seven Senate and House session days left in the year, will the bills get passed before the legislature retires on December 18?
Anything can happen during the 'lame duck' session of legislature. That's the time after the November general election but before the end of the legislative year, where sometimes hundreds of bills are passed with little to no debate and sometimes in the wee hours of the morning. Expediency is high while accountability is low.
The pair of hemp bills share the same fate as a pair of marijuana bills, HB 4271 and HB 5104. Those bills would authorize dispensaries and the production/sale of foodstuffs, topicals and other medicinal marijuana treatments. The Senate Government Operations Committee passed them months ago. Serious debate over the details has been widely reported in media for several weeks.
"I think what they have been doing is stalling the hemp bills while they waited for the dispensary bills, " Sharpe said. "That's just my opinion." The Senate Fiscal Analysis of HBs 5439 and 5440 was just completed on December 3rd- less than one full day before the vote was taken in the Committee.
All four bills require a vote of the full Senate before they become law, and at least two- HB 4271and HB 5104- will have to go back to the House for a vote to confirm the changes made in the Senate versions. The hemp bills passed without amendment in the Senate committee, and if they remain unaltered after the floor vote they'll be ready for the Governor's signature.
Remaining unamended may be a challenge, as last-minute additions from corporate entities threaten to spoil the process. A representative from a Detroit area hemp company attended the meeting and asked for a modification. "They wanted to put an amendment in," Sharpe said, "but there was no description of their need or a copy of the amendment." The firm's request was denied and their only opportunity to add language will come during the debate on the Senate floor, Sharpe explained, but that looks like a long shot.
"The committee votes were 4-0," reported Sharpe. "These guys all know what's going on; the Senate is ready to get this done and I am hoping for a unanimous vote in the Senate like we had in the House. It's what's best for Michigan."