Farmers Breathe Hope: South Carolina Hemp Bill Signed by Governor

Farmers Breathe Hope: South Carolina Hemp Bill Signed by Governor

Flickr / Ed Helms / CC BY-NC 2.0

South Carolina hemp bill gives farmers hope

From fiber to clothes to biomedicine, industrial hemp is fueling new opportunities across the United States, and a newly signed South Carolina hemp bill is going to give South Carolinians the opportunity to enter the re-emerging market of hemp.

On May 11, 2017, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed House Bill 3559, legalizing the growth of industrial hemp in the state through the South Carolina Industrial Hemp Program.

While a previous South Carolina Hemp bill was signed by Gov. Nikki Haley in 2014, that bill neglected to create a mechanism for permitting and regulating the crop; however, the bill signed yesterday by McMaster authorizes the Department of Agriculture to issue up to 20 permits during the pilot program’s first year, with each permittee authorized to grow up to 20 acres of hemp. In the second and third years, the DOA can issue up to 40 permits, with each permittee authorized to grow up to 40 acres of hemp.

“I can tell you as a farmer, one of the most important things is that you diversify your portfolio, and all I can tell you ladies and gentleman is that’s what we believe we’re doing here is allowing a new crop, because that is what industrial hemp is, it’s a crop, it’s a commodity, and we believe that we’re going to be able to allow our farmers to engage in growing this,” said Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, during a debate of the bill on March 29 in the House of Representatives.

Ott also stated during the debate that the bill was the result of compromise and collaboration between the Department of Agriculture, Clemson University, the law enforcement community and advocates.

Bringing Palmetto Harmony Home

Janel Ralph, owner of Palmetto Harmony, a Conway-based provider of whole plant hemp products using hemp grown in Kentucky, is one advocate in particular who has been at the vanguard of getting industrial hemp legalized in South Carolina.

“Stakeholders should interpret the bill as a huge win for the South Carolina farming community. Our farmers have been starving for a new crop that can be as profitable as tobacco to add into their crop rotation and hemp could very well be that crop,” Ralph told Marijuana Industry News. “We can look to Kentucky’s program to see the success that has blossomed for farmers with hemp and can assume South Carolina will in turn have the same success.”

While Palmetto Harmony currently uses hemp grown in Kentucky as permitted under the federal farm bill, the ability to grow federally compliant hemp in South Carolina represents a promising opportunity for the company.

“I have worked diligently for the last few years to pass a comprehensive piece of legislation that will allow South Carolina farmers to participate in this exciting new, yet old, crop and couldn’t be happier with the passage of house bill 3559,” Ralph said. “What this will do for my business, Palmetto Harmony, is allow for us to bring our complete business home to South Carolina. This will also allow us to expand into more markets. We are very excited about this new phase our company will be entering into.”

Research and Beyond

In addition to providing farmers in the Palmetto State with a new agricultural commodity, the South Carolina hemp bill also allows public institutions of higher education with four-year degree programs to research the applications and market opportunities of industrial hemp.

As the passage of hemp legislation in South Carolina represents a new economic frontier for the state, proponents of medical marijuana legalization will have to wait until the General Assembly reconvenes in January 2018 to see if it will pick back up with the medical marijuana legislation that has stalled in the Senate Medical Affairs Subcommittee and the House Committee on Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs.

Caroline Cahill was the Managing Editor of MJINews from June 2014 through February 2018. She earned her BA in Communications from College of Charleston and her MFA in Creative Writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. You can follow her on Twitter @CtheresaC.

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