SOURCE: McMillan Arrington for the NHA
On May 10, 2016, Alabama became the 29th state to legalize industrial hemp growth when Republican Governor Robert Bentley signed The Alabama Industrial Hemp Research Program Act (Act 2016-293) into law. This piece of legislation was met with almost unheard of success as it travelled through the complete legislative process in fewer than sixty calendar days.
My interest in industrial hemp began in 2012 as an entrepreneur but accelerated in 2014 when I co-founded BastCore LLC, a company that processes hemp. Hemp has been referred to as a triple-bottom line investment due to its potential to have positive economic, social and environmental impacts. I saw bringing hemp to Alabama as an opportunity to positively benefit my state and local community, while also providing my business and others with a source of locally-grown hemp.
The opportunity for “pilot programs” under Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill is what motivated me to reach out to Commissioner John McMillan of the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries. After meeting with the Commissioner several times, he guided me toward Auburn University for purposes of commissioning a white paper. Auburn University studied the potential impact of hemp in Alabama and the results of that white paper suggest that hemp is well-suited for growth in Alabama.
With Commissioner McMillan’s unbridled support and a corroborating white paper from one of the state’s land-grant institutions, I had what I needed to approach the Alabama Legislature to find a sponsor for a bill in Alabama. Senator Paul Bussman and Representative Ken Johnson fearlessly led the charge at the statehouse in support of creating a research program in Alabama. With the names of these three Alabama leaders behind this effort, I spent countless hours at the statehouse educating other legislators and advocating for industrial hemp. I made presentations before both the Senate and House agriculture committees and testified in a public hearing. Remarkably, the bill’s only vocal opponent admitted during the public hearing that because he became more educated about industrial hemp in the days leading to his testimony, he could no longer oppose the legislation.
Companion bills were introduced in both chambers. The House version moved to the Senate on a vote of 94-0 and ultimately moved to the Governor’s desk on a vote of 27-1. The newly created Alabama Industrial Hemp Research Program Act authorizes the Department of Agriculture to administer an industrial hemp research program and to license growers, who may be persons, businesses or cooperatives, to grow industrial hemp. The bill also authorizes institutions of higher education to conduct industrial hemp research.
Now that Governor Bentley has signed the bill, the next step in the process will be for the Department of Agriculture to promulgate rules and regulations necessary to administer the program. It is my hope and reasonable belief that the Department of Agriculture will structure its program to have as wide of a reach as the interest level supports. For this reason, I encourage all farmers, entrepreneurs and other interested persons to contact the Alabama Department of Agriculture to express your interest in this amazing and exciting new opportunity in Alabama.
McMillan Arrington is a Co-Founder of BastCore LLC, investor, entrepreneur, tireless hemp advocate, beekeeper, devoted husband and father of two young daughters.