By HAYLEY HARMON
6 News Anchor/Reporter
STRAWBERRY PLAINS (WATE) - A bill that would make hemp farming legal in Tennessee could soon be on the table in the state legislature, and one East Tennessee senator is behind the big push.
Republican Senator Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains tells 6 News he's drafting the hemp bill on the heels of the recent passage of a similar measure in Kentucky.
Hemp farming is currently illegal in Tennessee. Growing the plant is also prohibited by federal law.
But in recent years, a number of states have passed measures legalizing the farming of the plant, including Kentucky.
Niceley wants Tennessee to do follow suit.
"Why not give the farmers a chance to raise it?" said Niceley.
He says there's a common misconception that hemp is marijuana.
"It's not marijuana. It's a cousin. You can't get high off smoking industrial hemp," said Niceley.
He's working on a bill right now that would approve hemp farming in the state.
He says considering that hemp itself is legal, growing it should be too.
"Hemp is legal. You can import it. You can export it. You can buy it. You can sell it. It's only illegal for a farmer to raise it. I want to change that," said Niceley.
Niceley believes hemp could become a viable crop for Tennessee farmers to grow and sell.
The plant's fibers can be turned into everything from rope to clothing.
"You can make paper out of it. There are thousands of things you can make out of hemp," said Niceley.
But it's not just about making a change in Tennessee.
Niceley hopes approval of hemp farming in the state could help pressure the federal government to repeal it's prohibition on growing the plant.
"That's just another example of farmers being discriminated against. I don't know of any other crop that's illegal to raise, but it's not illegal to buy it, sell it, import it or export it," said Niceley.
East Tennessee residents say they're in favor of Niceley's idea, especially if it means more money in farmer's pockets.
"I don't see a problem with it. I know a lot of people who have farms out here so any kind of cash crop like that would be good for them," said Brent Byrum of Strawberry Plains. "If people aren't getting high off of it, I don't see why people shouldn't be able to grow it and make money off of it."
Niceley says he's already received a lot of support from other state legislators, including bi-partisan support.
He plans to present the bill in next year's legislative session, which begins in January.
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