The subject was hemp, not marijuana. But many of those debating its legalization seemed pretty high on the idea.

Senators voted 32-1 Tuesday afternoon to advance a bill (LB1001), introduced by Sen. Norm Wallman of Cortland, that would allow the production, sale and purchase of industrial hemp in Nebraska.

Even some conservative Republican senators praised the bill.

"Let's grow our own. Let's get this done. Let's start this process so that we're not dead last," Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins said.

It's another crop for Nebraska farmers to grow.

The bill would exempt hemp from being a controlled substance, but the Department of Agriculture would regulate its production.

Hemp contains 1 percent or less of THC, the main mind-altering ingredient found in the cannabis plant, and to get a standard dose like that in marijuana, a person would have to smoke 10 to 12 hemp cigarettes over an extremely short period of time, Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop said.

"In other words, you're not going to get a buzz off this stuff," he said.

Hemp is used in materials for cloth, rope, paper, fuel and medicines.

For those who believe growers could hide marijuana plants in a field of hemp, Lathrop said, cross pollination would lower THC levels in the marijuana and ruin the crop.

Hemp has not yet been authorized by federal law. But the farm bill passed recently by Congress would allow research on hemp by universities and departments of agriculture in states that have legalized it.

Some families in Nebraska want to see the bill go a step further. If hemp is no longer a controlled substance, they hope it would open the way for hemp oil to be used for medical purposes.

Another bill (LB1102), introduced by Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue, that would decriminalize the possession and use of a small amount of hemp oil for medical treatment, was withdrawn earlier this session.

Increasing attention has been given to promising results of initial research on cannabis oil treatment for severe and medically resistant seizures. Cannabidiol is for patients who need the therapeutic benefits, without the effects of THC.

The one senator who voted against advancing the bill to a second round of consideration — Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber — said there was something about it that just didn't feel right.

It's one step closer to legalization of marijuana, he said. And in order for farmers to grow it, they would have to take something else out of production.

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Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com -- You can follow JoAnne's tweets at twitter.com/ljslegislature.


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