industrial hemp

Georgia lawmakers still are fine-tuning the regulations needed to launch the hemp-farming industry in the state.

Members of the House Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee this week held a hearing on House Bill 847, which outlines the guidelines for hemp farming and production.

Many technical changes were made to the bill ahead of Wednesday's hearing to comply with federal mandates and clarify language. 

“Basically, what we are doing with this bill is we are trying to clean up some language from last year, some unintended consequences from the bill last year and some other stuff we need to do to comply with [U.S. Department of Agriculture’s] rules and regs in order for us to process or get licenses to grow hemp here in Georgia,” said Rep. John Corbett, R-Lake Park, one of the sponsors of the bill.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed the Georgia Hemp Farming Act in May based on the guidelines of the U.S. Agricultural Act of 2014. The act made it legal for farmers to grow the crop with up to 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol concentration, a psychoactive ingredient.

HB 847 lays out the rules for licensing, permitting and testing of hemp samples.

One of the issues at hand Wednesday was the ability to differentiate between hemp and marijuana. Both derive from the cannabis plant.

Hemp can be harvested as seeds, fiber or cannabidiol oil. Marijuana, which has a higher THC potency, is illegal in Georgia. 

To avoid confusion between the two plants, Corbett and the bill’s other sponsors added a provision that prohibits the possession of hemp in its leaf form. Only hemp stalks, fiber and sterilize seeds will be authorized to be on a person.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Chemist Deneen Kilcrease said law enforcement officials are unable to differentiate between marijuana and hemp without special equipment.

“This way, if law enforcement runs across a person who has a bag of leafy material on their person, then it doesn’t have to be distinguished as hemp or marijuana,” she said. “It is exempted as a hemp product.” 

That person would be subjected to criminal charges in the absence of a license.

Rep. Scot Turner, R-Holly Springs, questioned the provision’s validity.

“Is it fair to prosecute somebody who has possession of something that’s not going to get them stoned for having something that would, in fact, make them stoned?” Turner asked.

Lawmakers also plan to add a provision to the guidelines on carrying seeds.

Specifics about background checks were also discussed Wednesday. Sole proprietors, partners and company executive managers will be subject to federal background checks 60 days ahead of the application for a hemp license or processing permit.

People with a history of selling or trafficking a controlled substance will not be allowed to obtain a hemp license or permit.

The committee will continue to comb through the bill’s language after the General Assembly returns from recess Feb. 18.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.