Georgia House Passes Hemp Bill

It will definitely take a while before the U.S. cannabis sector settles even if some states were already allowing medical cannabis within their borders before the 2018 Farm Bill liberated hemp from decades of prohibition. Defining hemp as cannabis with less than 0.3% THC, the legislation allowed growers to farm hemp under state or tribal programs.

However, the bill didn’t say much else regarding the regulation of hemp and its extracts, and this has resulted in a patchwork of state legislation and tons of confusion. Different states have different policies regarding hemp, and this has created major issues across the board, such as hindering interstate transportation of industrial hemp. In some cases, the lack of a comprehensive regulatory structure has made prosecutors’ jobs more difficult.

Last year, for instance, the state of Georgia passed a hemp bill that top prosecutors argued would compromise their ability to prosecute marijuana cases. The bill required people to have licenses before possessing hemp but failed to outline any criminal consequences to those found with unlicensed hemp.

Since hemp and marijuana are virtually identical and state officials didn’t have THC testing capabilities, defendants charged with marijuana possession could argue they were holding hemp. Gwinnett County Solicitor-General Brian Whiteside began dropping marijuana cases, while the police department started writing tickets for misdemeanor violations instead of making arrests.

On Thursday, the state passed a bill that clears up who is allowed to possess hemp. According to Whiteside and Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, since last year’s bill didn’t explicitly address the legality of hemp possession by everyday residents, it legalized hemp by default.

And as the state lacked the technology to tell hemp and marijuana apart, prosecutors argued there wouldn’t be enough evidence to make convictions stick. After Gwinnett County stopped prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana charges, a number of counties such as Cobb, DeKlab, and Richmond followed suit. However, solicitors in counties like Hall and Cherokee remained committed to prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana cases.

It is this confusion that Bill HB 847 was intended to clarify. Sponsored by Rep. John Corbett, the legislation puts Georgia in compliance with federal hemp regulations and allows colleges to possess and research hemp.

“It’s now crunch time that we need to pass this bill to give the farmers in Georgia the opportunity to grow a new crop if they choose to do that. We are not making decisions for them, but we’re giving them the opportunity to maybe grow another crop that they can make a profit on,” says Rep. Tom McCall, Chairman of the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.

The bill has to be approved by the Senate before the governor can sign it into law. Industry watchers believe that hemp industry players like Lexaria Bioscience Corp. (CSE: LXX) (OTCQX: LXRP) are hoping that the bill is enacted soon so that farmers can get started growing hemp this year.

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