The Texas Legislature is considering two bills that would make Texas one of the first states to legalize industrial hemp, a non-psychoactive plant used in products like oil, plastic and paper. The plant would be regulated in the same way as cannabis, and the federal government is working on a pilot program to do just that.

According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas farmers harvested 6.5 million pounds of industrial hemp in 2015, but the state has yet to sign off on a law that would allow the farming of the plant, which is classified as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

word-image-9456 Wichita Falls is expected to become home to the largest cannabis processing plant in the country, which may yet happen, but local farmers are wary of the new crop. In summary, people are very interested, but we realize we are nowhere near what we need to do this on a large scale, it will be a slow, slow process, said David Graf, Wichita County Extension Agent. Texas legalized cannabis cultivation in 2019 after an 80-year federal ban because the plant contains a small amount of the same chemical that gives marijuana its high. Hemp is tradable because it can be used to make textiles and other products. Texas farmers have been slow to adopt the new crop, with only 5,000 acres harvested in the first year after legalization. We are exactly where we were 50, even 100 years ago in terms of wheat varieties. We don’t know which types work and which don’t, Graf says. Some of the varieties tested so far come from Poland, Australia, Italy, Canada and other countries, he said. There is no place in our climate where cannabis is grown. We have a lot of problems with these breeds. They’re just not suited to this part of the world, Graf said. The other problem is price, he said. The prices they offered farmers were about 8 or 9 cents a pound. So with an average or slightly above average crop, you won’t earn more than that on cotton, he said. There is one more stumbling block. We have crop insurance for cotton, but not for hemp, Graf said. Shortly after cannabis cultivation was legalized, Dallas-based Panda Biotech announced it would buy the former Delphi plant on North Central Highway in Wichita Falls to turn it into a massive cannabis processing facility. Panda plans to receive a comprehensive benefits package from the City of Wichita Falls in exchange for creating jobs at the site. Earlier this month, Panda withdrew its $100 million bid in government bonds to buy the assets. Although Panda has resubmitted its bid, the August deadline means that the company is unlikely to be able to commission the plant in the near future. Henry Florsheim, president and CEO of the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce, said the move is just a matter of funding and confirmed Monday that the change will not affect Panda’s plans to open a plant in the Wichita Falls area.

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