The Mississippi Hemp Cultivation Task Force voted Wednesday to approve the release of their final report to the legislature on December 2.

The task force says in the executive summary that while there is both positive potential and significant risks for hemp cultivation in the state, there could be additional costs for taxpayers. 

Mississippi is one of only three states where hemp cultivation is illegal and the legislature could take up the issue in January, when it returns to Jackson for the annual regular session. The task force’s report was designed to give the legislature information on how to craft legislation on legalizing hemp cultivation.

Hemp is derived from strains of the cannabis sativa plant with low amounts (0.3 percent content or less) of the psychoactive substance in marijuana known as THC. The plant can be cultivated for its fiber, which can be used in insulation, rope, textiles and other products. 

The seeds are also a good source of protein and can be eaten by humans or used for animal feed. The flowers of the plant can be used for cannabidiol, or CBD oil production with possible benefits still being studied by scientists nationally and at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. 

One of the roadblocks for Mississippi hemp cultivation cited by the task force is nearly gone after the U.S. Department of Agriculture presented a draft of regulations on October 31. These new rules govern hemp cultivation nationally after the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill authorized the growing and sale of hemp. 

The comment period for the draft rule closes on December 30.

 In addition to legislation, Mississippi officials would also have to submit a hemp cultivation plan to the USDA for approval before hemp could be grown in the state.

The problems the task force’s report spotlighted with hemp cultivation include:

  • Current oversupply of hemp in the market.
  • Lack of infrastructure and supply chain to get the products to market.

Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson said licensing fees in the 47 other states that legalized it for commercial, research, or pilot programs hasn’t been enough to cover the costs related to regulation, such as hiring new personnel and testing. 

He said those type of costs have added up to $500,000 in additional spending in Kentucky, a state Gipson said is the most advanced nationally in its hemp cultivation program.

Mississippi law enforcement agencies lodged the same complaints in the draft report as they have throughout the process. These concerns include:

  • Inability to distinguish between hemp and marijuana on the side of the road.
  • Law enforcement officers would be unable to conducts arrests and prosecutors would be unable to prosecute marijuana cases.
  • A backlog at the Mississippi Crime Laboratory of 400 exhibits per month.
  • It would cost $500,000 for the crime lab to perform THC chemical analyses.

According to Gipson, the state’s crime lab meets federal standards for drug testing.

Kentucky could be a model for Mississippi. Since the first pilot program launched in 2014, the number of planted acres has grown from 33 to 6,700 and the number of approved growers have increased from 14 at the program’s inception to 978 in 2019.

State law requires licenses for growers and processers, which include background checks. They also have to consent to inspection by program officials and law enforcement at any location where hemp or related products are grown, handled, stored or processed. Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates have to be provided to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture before hemp is planted.