Hemp farmers and sellers would need a license to possess the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana under legislation that passed the General Assembly on Monday.
House Bill 847 requires anyone cultivating, transporting or selling hemp to hold a license just like for other agricultural products. Anyone caught with hemp who does not have a proper license would face the same penalties as for marijuana possession in Georgia.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Corbett, R-Lake Park, follows passage last year of a measure that legalized the growing, processing and transport of hemp. It cleared the state Senate on Monday by a 34-13 vote with several Democratic lawmakers voting against it.
The hemp measure now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his signature.
States have rushed into the hemp business in recent years to take advantage of its many commercial uses, including the manufacture of rope, textiles and CBD oil used to treat a variety of illnesses.
But how to distinguish the leafy green substance from cannabis, which is illegal to possess, has tripped up law enforcement representatives and criminal justice reform advocates concerned about conducting traffic stops.
Corbett’s bill aims to clear up concerns over expensive testing of hemp during traffic stops by requiring official paperwork rather than forcing law enforcement agencies to test for THC, the chemical that produces a high that legally must be below a 3% content amount.
Penalties for violating the license requirements could include jail time and fines, depending on the amount of leafy-green substance being carried.
The bill also requires certain key participants in a hemp growing or research operation to submit to background checks and fingerprinting. Those participants include owners and other executive positions like chief operating officers and chief financial officers. It does not include farm, field or shift managers.
Licenses for hemp processors would require paying the state Department of Agriculture a permit fee of $25,000 for the first year and $50,000 for every year thereafter. College and university hemp researchers would also be added to the list of eligible licensees under the bill.
The fees will pay for the licensing and monitoring program run by the agriculture agency, said Sen. Tyler Harper, who pushed for the bill in the Senate.
Speaking from the Senate floor Monday, Harper framed hemp farming and processing as a boon for Georgia’s agriculture economy, with nine processors and 66 growers already approved by the state and more that have submitted applications.
“This is going to be a phenomenal industry for our state,” said Harper, R-Ocilla. “This is going to be a way for us to get it off the ground.”