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Behind the Bar | Legislature | Marijuana

To diversify Nevada’s economy, lawmakers push for study on developing hemp industry

Joe Frey, the owner of Western States Hemp, examines his crop. (Courtesy of Western States Hemp)

Nevada lawmakers focused on the ever-present task of diversifying the state’s economy are considering a novel way to help jumpstart Nevada's economy — conducting an interim study on the state’s hemp industry. 

For 70 years, hemp cultivation was illegal in the United States until the passage of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas) said during a presentation on the study proposed as part of SCR4 to the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections on Thursday. 

Despite the ban, the U.S. remained one of the largest importers of the plant, and a previous iteration of the Farm Bill allowed states such as Nevada to start their own limited pilot program of legal hemp growth.

But approval of the 2018 federal legislation didn’t solve all of the budding hemp industry’s problems overnight. Lange said by launching the study, Nevada can develop a market that can increase jobs and boost the state's economy.

"This is something that is made for Nevada, something that we can use to diversify our economy to put more people back to work," Lange said. "We have lots of land; we have lots of vacant buildings, buildings that we can put indoor grow houses."

The study proposes examining the available funding sources for research on the plant and reviewing current trends in the hemp industry along with researching innovative methods and legislation to spur industry growth. It would also focus on programs designed to promote economic development in coordination with hemp cultivation businesses and the production and sale of hemp products.

Hemp is best known for CBD production, but CBD is just one byproduct of the plant. Hemp seeds can serve as a source of food, and the plant's stalk can be used in various textiles, biofuel and construction materials.

State lawmakers approved creation of a hemp pilot program in 2015, and the industry has since blossomed; growing from 13 registered growers in 2016 to 116 in 2018, along with corresponding increases in outdoor and indoor growth spaces registered with the state.

Former legislator and Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who sponsored the hemp pilot program bill in 2015, testified in support of the bill, noting that he can walk faster by using CBD oil in the morning and that hemp would benefit Clark County's agricultural community.

"We're intending to ... bring hemp into Clark County to let people study it, grow it in some of the neighborhood gardens that the university participates in and it's just a win-win," Segerblom said. "It's an incredibly valuable product."

Segerblom, who has a strain of cannabis named after him and led the crusade to legalize pot in the state, said that his only regret about the bill hearing was that he was not at the Legislature on April 20.

"I'd say the saddest day of my life was not being there on Tuesday for 4/20," Segerblom said. "I really did miss it."

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