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Hemp protesters

Protesters held up signs Wednesday while state lawmakers debated a hemp bill in the Capitol.

Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne kept his hemp bill moving Wednesday with a new amendment worked out with the Nebraska attorney general and county attorneys. 

Wayne successfully removed the bill (LB657) from final reading to attach an amendment he said would close a loophole in the current law. It allows that if a person is caught with plant material without proper documentation, it can be seized by law enforcement. The amendment creates a Class IV misdemeanor, with violators facing fines of up to $1,000.

Also with the amendment, a noxious weed inspector could inspect hemp, until the hemp program and its collected fees are large enough to pay for inspections, Wayne said. 

A handful of protesters gathered outside the Rotunda before the bill was debated. Children held signs that said, "We need hope not dope," and "We're Cornhuskers not Hemphuskers."  

During debate, Sen. Jon Lowe of Kearney continued his opposition to the bill, saying it created a slippery slope. 

"The hemp bill's a Trojan horse bill for marijuana," he said. "If you don't want your children or grandchildren getting easy access to drugs, because that's what this is, don't vote for this bill."

Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard said he didn't believe claims that allowing the growing of hemp was going to help the farm economy, save farms and improve incomes. 

"What this will do is … create a bunch of farmers who have never grown anything in their life," Erdman said. "So this is the wrong way to go."

The Nebraska Hemp Act would set up licensing and fee requirements for farmers who wish to grow hemp, outline reporting and enforcement requirements by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, and create a hemp checkoff program, similar to the checkoff programs that aid in marketing commodities produced in the state.

Hemp crops must be registered with a GPS location and plants grown must be submitted for testing to determine they contain less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive drug in marijuana.

Hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant, and has been used around the world as a fiber and oil seed for industrial and consumer products. It contains much lower levels of THC than marijuana.

The 2018 farm bill passed by Congress legalized hemp as an agricultural commodity.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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