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Hemp Farms In Texas? Ag Commissioner Sid Miller Among Backers For Legalization

A hemp plant is pollinated in Springfield, Ore., in April 2018. For Texas farmers, growing hemp will present some challenges. One is that it's delicate: Farmers who used pesticides in the past on crops like cotton will need to invest in soil remediation.
Associated Press
A hemp plant is pollinated in Springfield, Ore., in April 2018. For Texas farmers, growing hemp will present some challenges. One is that it's delicate: Farmers who used pesticides in the past on crops like cotton will need to invest in soil remediation.

Kris Taylor was accepted into medical school. But instead of becoming a doctor, the Texan moved to California to pursue something he was really passionate about. Hemp.

“I don’t remember what I told them I was going to do, but I definitely remember I didn’t tell them I was going to grow cannabis,” he said.

Taylor, who grew up in Plano, is a cofounder of Lumen, a company that makes farm-to-bottle hemp elixirs using cold-pressed hemp mixed with herbs like ginger and turmeric.

Along with Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Taylor is among those rooting for state Senate Bill 116, which would allow Texans to grow hemp — an offshoot of marijuana without the high.

“I went and learned about the industry and fell in the love with the plant and its capacity," Taylor said. "I have family members that have used cannabinoids for medical treatment for pain and PTSD and all sorts of things."

» No high with hemp

Hemp is different from marijuana. Though they’re both a form of cannabis, hemp doesn’t contain the psychoactive principle THC found in marijuana, so it can’t get you high. But it’s a versatile crop with seemingly endless possibilities.

“It’s got a really high quality fiber that’s on the stalk. It can be used for everything from auto parts to even some pretty high-tech applications, like a replacement for graphene in superconductors," said Eric Steenstra. He's the president of  Vote Hemp, a non-profit organization that promotes hemp farming in the U.S.

"And then when it comes to the flowers and the cannabinoids, they have really incredible potential from a health standpoint," he said. "And the seed — super nutritious as well."

In 2014, a farm bill passed allowing states to research hemp with the assistance of universities and under close oversight. Now, after the passing of the 2018 farm bill, any state can legally grow hemp as long as the state doesn’t have existing legislation prohibiting it.

Vote Hemp helped draft the federal hemp legislation, and now it’s working with Texas and other states to legalize the crop. A Texas Senate bill with bipartisan support has been filed to do just that.

But Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said he doesn’t know if it’s ready to pass just yet.

“It’s a little bit incomplete, not quite comprehensive enough. I know there’s others working on a more comprehensive bill,” he said. 

» Why is hemp illegal?

Today, the only way to farm cannabis in Texas is through the Texas Compassionate Use Program. The program allows patients with intractable epilepsy to be prescribed low-THC cannabis and allows farmers with the correct license to dispense it.

Otherwise, cannabis and its by-products are illegal in Texas, but Commissioner Miller is advocating for that to change.

“It gives us another alternative. Most of the commodities right now are not turning a profit, so this would be something that they could possibly make a profit on,” he said. 

Daulton O’Neill said hemp could be a huge boom for the Texas economy. He’s the President of Green Light Events in Dallas, a company that hosts events targeted at the cannabis community and lobbies for hemp legalization in Austin.

He plans to grow hemp as soon as legislation is passed and thinks it could be a new cash crop for Texas.

“Not only is it going to be a job creator and economic engine, but it’s going to save farmers and save Texas traditions,” he said. 

» The challenges of growing hemp in Texas

But hemp will present some challenges to Texas farmers. For one, hemp is delicate. Farmers who used pesticides or heavy metals in the past on crops like cotton, will need to invest in soil remediation.

O’Neill said there’s also manufacturing to think about, since there aren’t many hemp processing plants in the U.S.

“Hemp is only worth what you can manufacture and process it into," he said. "If all you have is the plant, you’re going to have to pay a lot of other people off in order to get your product in a highly valuable form."

Commissioner Miller said it’s not likely hemp legislation will pass in time for spring planting, so O’Neill hopes to plant his first hemp crop this time next year.

Yasir Hashim is another cofounder of Lumen, the California hemp elixir company. He, too, has his eyes on Texas.

“Texas is home for us — it’s where we have family, it’s where we’ve left family,” Hashim said.

And this Texan said he can’t wait for the day he can bring his business back home.

Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Bekah Morr is KERA's Morning Edition producer. She came to KERA from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a news assistant at Weekend All Things Considered. While there, she produced stories and segments for a national audience, covering everything from rising suicide rates among police officers, to abuse allegations against Nike coaches and everything in between. Before that, she interned for a year on Think with Krys Boyd, helping to research, write and produce the daily talk-show. A graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, Bekah spent her formative journalism years working at the student news organization The Shorthorn. As editor in chief, she helped create the publication’s first, full-color magazine.