JEFFERSON CITY - Let them grow hemp.
That was the message sent by Missouri's senators Thursday when they overwhelmingly adopted a resolution urging the University of Missouri to grow and do research on the commercial uses of industrial hemp.
The vote was 23-5 to urge research into industrial uses of the same type of plant which produces marijuana.
"I vote aye- but I don't inhale," said Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau as he cast his vote.
Sen. Jerry Howard, D-Dexter, said commercial hemp has many industrial uses and has the potential to become one of Missouri's biggest cash crops.
"I think that the growing of industrial hemp and the manufacture of the worthwhile economic products like clothing and paper, can become one of the biggest economic booms for the state of Missouri in many, many years," said Howard.
He also said that commercial hemp was one of the first plants to be cultivated by humans and it was widely grown in colonial America and in Missouri. Europe and China still grow the plant today. It can be used to manufacture rope, sacks, yarn, paper, composite materials, thread, cordage cloth and other such products.
"An acre of hemp produces between four and ten times more fiber per year than an acre of trees," Howard said. "It also produces a paper that lasts for 1500 years versus the normal paper that we have today that lasts for 25- 100 years. Had we not had the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence printed on hemp paper, we might not have them to view in the Smithsonian today."
Howard warns that industrial hemp should not be confused with illegal plants grown to produce marijuana. Industrial hemp contains a very low THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannobinol) level and is harvested before it reaches that low level.
"I think that with the technology that we have today and genetic engineering, we can set industrial hemp apart from any other kind of hemp plant," said Howard. "We could put verigated leaves on it or spots on the leaves so we can easily recognize it."
The resolution is now on its way to the House for consent, but even if it passes, it does not hold the same weight as law. The University still must get a permit from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for production and research.