OKLAHOMA CITY - Amid the state's budget shortfall and problems with raising recurring revenue at the state capitol, two legislators are proposing at least one solution: legalizing the production of industrial hemp in the state.
"We know Oklahoma has to diversify our economy. We need new and recurring revenue and this does both," said State Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, who is partnering with House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols on the legislation.
"Oklahoma is prime real estate for the production of industrial hemp. Our farmers can grow it, they can do well. Our citizens can buy new products that can be made from this, it can be taxed."
While Oklahomans might not be that familiar with hemp, they have become more familiar with one of the products that can be produced from it. Cannabidiol, or CBD oil. It was the center of the Katie's Law legislation passed and signed into law in 2015, led by Echols, authorizing a program for the oil in the treatment of certain diseases, like epilepsy.
There are also a number of uses for industrial hemp, in agriculture, textiles and food.
"Hemp is great for textiles, plastics, even as fuel. The research possibilities are endless," said Dollens, who said the plan is to have a research and pilot program with a state university tied to the bill. Currently, universities in the state cannot use the crop in research.
And currently, Oklahoma is behind the curve -- compared to other states. There are currently 38 states with industrial hemp legislation on the books.
"It’s a cash crop. Unfortunately, throughout time, it’s become synonymous with marijuana."
While hemp and marijuana comes from the cannabis plant, hemp is different. Industrial hemp is generally defined as a crop that has less than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive substance, THC, found in marijuana.
"I certainly hope, given the state of the economy, that the chances of this becoming a law are good," said Echols, R-Oklahoma City, when reached by phone late Wednesday night, adding that the bill would likely receive bipartisan support at the capitol. "It's a true cash crop and has a lot of beneficial properties."
"Most people think hemp and marijuana are two different plants," said Ryan Early, CEO of Can-Tek Labs in Oklahoma City. "They’re the same plant, species, genus. Their genetic makeup varies in the active ingredient, the amount of active ingredient actually present in the plant.”
Early's Oklahoma City-based company creates a variety of products with industrial hemp CBD oil: from massage oil to edible candies. However, his raw product comes from other states where industrial hemp can be grown and processed, like Colorado.
"We have to have farmers in other states, where they do have the legislation approved to grow this non-narcotic, non-psychoactive plant that we then ship here to Oklahoma, process and compound," Early said.
"There`s a lot of money being left on the table, here in Oklahoma?" I asked him.
While specifics of the legislation has yet to be filed with the state, the idea is to allow Oklahoma farmers to grow and cultivate the a regulated hemp crop for the growing market, and not just for CBD oil.
"At the same time, there’s so much research that needs to be done for fuel, fiber," Early said.
"The market’s very big. That’s why it’s important we try to keep as much money as we can here inside the state."