While winter in Alaska is certainly beautiful, Homer resident Jack Bennett says the cost of heating your home can get ugly.

For the past couple years, Bennett has been working to combat the problem-- and he says he’s discovered an affordable solution.

“With hemp as a 100 percent natural insulation material, you are saving a minimal of 50 percent-- up to 70 percent-- in your energy savings annually,” Bennett said.

Bennett is on a journey to build Alaska’s first hemp home, modeled after one built in North Carolina.

There’s just one problem: Right now it’s not legal to grow hemp in Alaska. Bennett says he’s been forced the import the crop from out of state, but would prefer to produce it himself.

Earlier this week, the Alaska State House of Representative unanimously passed a bill which would legalize the growth and sale of hemp.

Senate Bill 6’s sponsor, Sen. Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer), says her bill will change Alaska law-- which defines hemp as a separate agricultural product from marijuana-- to remove it from the state’s list of controlled substances.

Hughes says the bill was requested by Alaska farmers and entrepreneurs.

“There are farmers, there are ranchers, there are entrepreneurs in our state that are interested in hemp for a variety of purposes,” Hughes said. “We've got folks that are looking at is as a construction material, as a material for oil spill cleanup, to use in lotions and soaps, and to use as livestock feed and bedding.”

Before it can become law, the bill requires a Senate concurrence vote, which is also anticipated to pass unanimously. Representatives from Hughes’ office say there has not been one single vote against the bill thus far.

Should SB6 be implemented, not just anyone will be allowed to produce hemp. Growers must first be enrolled in a pilot program overseen by the state Division of Agriculture.

“Folks interested in growing industrial hemp will register and follow the set of guidelines that will be outlined in regulations that follow SB6,” said Rob Carter, program manager for the state’s Plant Materials Center.

The idea behind the pilot program is to collect data and promote the industry. It will take some time to get things up and running, according to Carter, who hopes the first hemp crop will be planted by spring 2019.

In the meantime, Bennett says he’ll continue to import hemp from Outside to manufacture into building materials.

While Hughes says hemp won’t solve the state’s fiscal crisis or replace the oil industry, Bennett says it’ll allow him to do his part to improve life in Alaska.

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