House committee debates hemp

Farmers could grow hemp if it becomes legal in Missouri.

JEFFERSON CITY - The debate over the cannabis plant continued at the state capitol Tuesday evening, this time involving a less hallucinogenic variant.

A bill brought before the House Economic Development Committee would legalize industrial hemp in Missouri. Cultivators would have to be licensed by the Missouri Department of Agriculture and submit to regular inspections. Hemp is similar but not identical to marijuana. Chief among the differences is a far lower level of THC, the hallucinogen found in marijuana. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, said industrial hemp has more than 25,000 legal uses, including plastics, fuels, clothing and medicine. He said hemp has no risk of abuse because the THC content is too low.

"Smoking hemp would be like smoking paper," he said.

A good portion of the discussion centered around possible medical uses for hemp after the testimony of Paige Figi, who said her daughter, Charlotte, had severe epilepsy and suffered as many as 50 seizures a day until she started using an oil made from the hemp plant. The strain was named Charlotte's Web, after her, and has been used to treat severe epilepsy cases. Figi said hemp strains like Charlotte's Web would be legal under Colona's bill.

Several Republican members of the committee suggested they liked the idea of legalizing hemp. Committee chair Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles, said she saw the proposal as an economic development bill. Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said he thought it was a good bill.

The Missouri Farm Bureau raised concerns the plants could be used to conceal illicit activities. Leslie Holloway, the group's director of state & local government affairs, told KRCG 13 the bureau regularly consults with law enforcement officials who have repeatedly expressed such concerns. She said the Department of Agriculture may not have the manpower to effectively carry out the regulation scheme outlined in Colona's bill. Colona told KRCG 13 the organization's concerns were legitimate, though he added legal crops can be used to hide illegal activities as well.