Hemp growth advocates say legalization could boost economy

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JEFFERSON CITY- One currently illegal product in Missouri could, if legalized, promote economic growth.  

But it's not marijuana.

The Missouri Hemp Network held a presentation at the capitol Tuesday, showing that allowing states to grow hemp could create jobs and benefit the state's economy.

"America is actually missing out on the overall profitability because America is the number one purchaser of hemp products," founder of the Missouri Hemp Network Steven Wilson said.

He said hemp is illegal to grow in many states, but hemp products are available for purchase nationwide.

Wilson said the main reason lawmakers have not legalized hemp again, as it was legal prior to the 1950s, is due to its similarity in physical appearance with marijuana plants.

"The standard has been, for about 10 to 12 years, the police can't tell the difference between a field of marijuana and a field of hemp," Wilson said. "They look identical but they are two separate plants. Most people think that because they look the same, therefore they are the same."

Nationally, marijuana is listed as a narcotic while industrial hemp is considered a crop globally.

"Last year, the National Farmer's Union actually moved industrial hemp into the same category as corn and cotton and tomatoes," Wilson said. "And the farm bureau did vote last year at its convention to support hemp farming in America."

Due to the large market for hemp in America, Wilson said growth and production of hemp and hemp products could transition from Canada to America, if it becomes legal across the nation.

"If a Missouri farmer cultivates the raw material the people in Missouri could get the jobs when they start making the clothes and the hemp diesel," Wilson said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eight states currently allow for the promotion and growth of hemp shown in the above map. The states are California, Colorado, Maine, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia.

Missouri had a bill pass out of committee on March 11 that would allow it to become the ninth state to allow farming, production and sale of industrial hemp.