Montana became one of the first states to legalize hemp for industrial purposes, changing the law even before the federal government eased restrictions on its ban with the 2014 Farm Bill. Like the many states that followed, Montana saw the economic value of legalizing hemp farming.
With the plant used in the manufacturing of thousands of products, legalizing hemp farming can boost jobs and provide an extra source of income for farmers, all while bolstering the state's economy. Because of the decades-long ban on hemp, United States manufacturers had to import it from countries who did allow its cultivation.
The following people helped Montana become one of the leaders in legalizing hemp farming.
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1. State Sen. B.F. "Chris" Christiaens, D-Great Falls
In 2001, Sen. B.F. Christiaens sponsored Senate Bill 261, which legalized the production of industrial hemp in the state, as reported by The Montana Standard
. The bill specified that farmers can cultivate hemp that contains no more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, also called THC, the ingredient that makes marijuana a drug. Other states had already legalized the practice, with Christiaens saying to the Standard "We want to be on the cutting edge in allowing our agricultural community to be producing this."
2. Bob Stephens, Montana Grain Growers Association
When SB 261 came before the state legislature, Bob Stephens was one of just five people who testified in support of it before the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee, The Montana Standard reported. Hemp had long been banned because of its relation to cannabis, used to make marijuana, but as Stephens reminded the committee, "Hemp is not pot."
3. Laura Murphy
In 2009, Laura Murphy became the first person since the 2001 law was passed to apply for a license to grow industrial hemp, the Missoulian reported
. Commercial hemp cultivation was still illegal under federal law at that time, meaning the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration could take action against the state and Murphy.
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4. Montana Agriculture Department Attorney Cort Jensen
After Murphy obtained the first industrial hemp license, Cort Jensen said this could make the DEA reconsider its position on the state's hemp industry. "Obviously hemp is a little different than ordinary marijuana, but they have declined in the past," Jensen said to the Missoulian. He also added "We will administer the state law."
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