Very quietly, South Carolina has just legalized the growth of industrial hemp. House Bill 3559, mixed in among a pile of legislation before the General Assembly, was signed into law in mid-May.
Lawmakers approved the pilot program to determine what kind of value farmers will get from their crops. After passing a State Law Enforcement Division background check, growers will be issued licenses that will allow them to cultivate the plant in-state.
Hemp growers must have a contracted buyer before they can proceed, and they also must work with a research university to help develop the South Carolina hemp market. This initial phase of the program — 20 licenses at 20 acres apiece — will expand to 50 at 50 after a year.
At that point, the program’s fate will be determined by the state’s agricultural department and the research universities working with the growers. David Verdin, a state senator, says South Carolina should have been allowing hemp cultivation a long time ago.
“We’re a little late into the game,” he told local media outlet The State.
Currently, 31 states allow for hemp production, either through their own legislation or under the provisions of the2014 Farm Bill. Hemp, contrary to a prevalent opinion, is not marijuana and has myriad industrial uses.
“Any agricultural crop we can cultivate here and make a profit for our farmers, we should try,” state senator Greg Hembree said.
Senator Verdin seems to agree. Highlighting his state’s rich history in the textile industry — one that was crushed by the federal government’s campaign against marijuana — he asked South Carolinians to try to envision a similar future ahead:
“It might just be a niche. But I believe there is a demonstrated marketplace globally. This very slow and heavy regulated approach will quickly evolve into a valuable industry. Imagine if we could actually make textiles in our textile mills again.”