Missouri farmers will soon have the chance to start planting a new crop.

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, signed Senate Bill 133 last week, putting into immediate law a provision allowing universities to start planting hemp for research ahead of Missouri’s first hemp season next year.

Kehoe assumed the role of acting governor while Gov. Mike Parson was traveling in Europe.

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No matter who signed the bill, Rep. Rick Francis, R-Perryville, was glad to see it cross the finish line.

“Missouri’s hemp industry will be much better suited for a 2020 growing season with the swift signing of SB133,” Francis said. “We worked closely with the universities to ensure the language would authorize them to conduct research that will be available before the first growing season—something we believe will be an invaluable asset.”

The bill has other provisions, which go into effect Aug. 28, that will repeal or reform the vast majority of the state’s hemp laws and bring them in line with the federal farm bill that allowed for hemp cultivation and manufacturing.

“Missouri used to be one of the states that led the nation in production of hemp before it became illegal,” said Francis, who was a key sponsor of the bill. “We used to have burlap sack companies, rope, all kinds of things.”

Francis noted that growing industrial hemp was made illegal in 1937 as part of the Marijuana Tax Act, which effectively banned all members of the cannabis family, despite the fact that hemp, unlike marijuana, does not carry a concentration of THC, the psychoactive component found in marijuana.

“This won’t get you high,” Francis said.

Instead, Francis said, hemp, can be used in a wide range of products, including fibers, textiles, paper, construction and insulation materials, cosmetic products, animal feed, as well as various food and beverages, used to grow wild all across Missouri.

Passage of SB 133, which modifies a bill Francis also sponsored last year, drew praise form several agricultural groups, including the Missouri Hemp Producers Association and the Missouri Hemp Trade Association, whose members are planning to assist state universities in their first year of research.

“We are excited to start working with our universities and Tiger fiber on the first hemp planted in Missouri in almost 100 years,” said MHPA President Tom Raffety of Charleston. “University research is vital to position Missouri as a leading state in an industry projected to exceed $20 billion by 2024. We look forward to continuing our partnerships with universities, farmers, and industry to achieve that goal.”

One MHPA member in particular, Tiger Fiber Hemp, is set to work in conjunction with the University of Missouri to cultivate the first hemp crop.

“Though it will be a late start in the planting season, Tiger Fiber is working in close partnership with the University of Missouri on a pilot program to demonstrate the benefits of hemp production for several varieties of hemp this year,” said Patrick Van Meter, CEO of Tiger Fiber Hemp. “The hope is to be able to expand the program to Missouri farmers in the near future.”

Francis’ efforts to pass the bill were aided by  Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, Sen. Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville, and Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg.

SB 133 was passed by the state House of Representatives in May by a 131-6 vote.

“I’m happy for the agricultural community in the state of Missouri,” Francis said.  “It will offer opportunities we have not seen for decades.  It has the opportunity of becoming a crop which could economically benefit farmers here in our state.”

Farmers would be required to undergo a background check, obtain a permit from the Department of Agriculture, and submit to random testing of the crop.

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