A bill making its way through the South Carolina Statehouse would legalize growing industrial hemp in the state. Hemp is the same species of plant as marijuana, so it was outlawed when marijuana was.
But botanist Dr. John Nelson at the University of South Carolina Herbarium says, "There's definitely a genetic difference between the industrial fiber source and what people are growing for the drug use, whether it's legal or illegal. The thing is, it's the same species but there can be some pretty profound genetic differences."
Hemp contains only small amounts of THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the mind-altering chemical found in marijuana. Dr. Nelson says, "If there was a field of this industrial hemp plant, you can't really get high from smoking that anyway, just because there's not much of the compound within the foliage."
Industrial hemp is useful for its stalk and fibers throughout the plant, while marijuana is used just for its leaves and buds.
The bill at the Statehouse is sponsored by two of the most conservative senators there, Republicans Kevin Bryant of Anderson and Lee Bright of Spartanburg. But supporters say besides the fact that industrial hemp is different from marijuana, it could also mean big bucks for the state if it's legalized.
Wayne Borders, president of the state chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says, "The Hemp Industries Association has actually estimated for 2012 that the retail value of hemp in the United States that was sold and transferred was about $500 billion." Since it's illegal to grow hemp in most states, most of that money went to other countries.
Ten states have already legalized growing hemp: California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. Eleven others, including South Carolina, have bills pending to legalize it.
Hemp can be used for: food, like hemp seeds and protein powders; fibers to make clothing, shoes, a
nd jewelry; bio-fuels; and in the building industry, since hemp can be used to make insulation and its fibers can be used to strengthen other building materials.
Pee Dee senators say some farmers who are growing less tobacco are interested in growing industrial hemp.
The bill was passed by a Senate subcommittee Thursday. That means it now goes to full committee. If it passes there it goes on to the full Senate and then on to the House.