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New farm bill allows for hemp production

By: Sean Ellis
Published in Blog on  January 16, 2019

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO – Hemp products have always been made and sold in the United States, but the hemp used to make those products has been grown in other countries. The new farm bill now allows U.S. farmers to produce the hemp used to make those products.

Hemp is used in more than 20,000 products, including building materials, cordage, fiber, food, floor coverings, fuel, plant, animal feed, paper, particle board, plastics, seed meal, cosmetics, seed and yarn.

Provisions in the new farm bill signed into law by President Donald Trump in December classify hemp as a regular agricultural crop, which means U.S. growers can now legally grow and sell it.

They can also buy federally subsidized crop insurance for hemp and apply for research grants.

But while the farm bill legalizes the production of hemp at the federal level, it does not pre-empt state law on hemp.

All of the new federal provisions regarding hemp do not change Idaho’s definition of it. As of right now, hemp production and possession are illegal in Idaho.

The farm bill removed hemp from the federally control substances list but Idaho has not yet done that.

Hemp plants are the same species as marijuana but hemp contains less than 0.3 percent of THC, the psychoactive compound that gets a user of marijuana high. It is virtually impossible to get high from hemp.

Under Idaho’s controlled substances act, however, hemp is considered the same thing as marijuana because Idaho code doesn’t include a THC threshold.

“Since hemp does contain a small amount of THC, it is not currently legal in Idaho,” says Idaho State Police spokesman Tim Marsano.

“The new farm bill includes a lot of different provisions for hemp and it now gets treated like a normal ag commodity, under the federal framework,” says Idaho State Department of Agriculture Chief of Operations Chanel Tewalt. “All of that, though, is on the federal side and it does not change Idaho’s definitions of hemp in code.”

At this point, anyone in Idaho who grows hemp would be growing a drug, according to Idaho law.

But a bill crafted by Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, would change that, if passed. The bill was expected to be introduced early in the 2019 legislative session, which began Jan. 7.

Troy, the vice chairwoman of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee, says there is a lot of interest among some farmers in growing the crop.

“Those who are interested are enthusiastically interested in growing hemp,” she says.

Troy’s bill would change Idaho code to reflect the new federal definition of hemp and direct the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to promulgate rules on hemp production in Idaho.

“We’ve followed the federal definition for hemp,” she says. “I’m trying to make it not too complicated.”

Troy has started a petition in support of the legislation at www.change.org and it can be found under the heading, Idaho – Say “NO” to drugs – say “YES” to Hemp!

“Hemp has the potential to be an alternate crop in Idaho’s thriving agricultural economy,” the petition states. “A growing hemp industry also has the potential to create jobs in production, processing and research….”

Troy’s petition points out that hemp “was cultivated by the founders of our nation and is used in products such as building materials, cordage, fiber, food, floor coverings, fuel, plant, animal feed, paper, particle board, plastics, seed meal, cosmetics, seed and yarn.”

It also notes that “it is virtually impossible to get ‘high’ by smoking or eating hemp … cannabis sativa plant used for the production of hemp is separate and distinct from the forms of cannabis used to produce marijuana.”

About $800 million worth of hemp products are sold in the U.S. each year but the hemp to make them comes from other nations, primarily Canada.

The hemp provisions in the new farm bill now open the door for U.S. farmers to grow it themselves.

“I am very interested in growing it,” says Idaho County Commissioner Mark Frei, a farmer who grows wheat, canola, lentils, garbanzo beans and barley. “There is a ton of interest in hemp and it’s a no-brainer that we should be able to grow it.”

Frei says hemp would fit nicely into crop rotations in his region.

“Any time we diversify our crop mix, it helps us in a free market system,” he says. “If prices drop for one crop, we can move to another one.”

The 2014 farm bill allowed for people to grow hemp but only for research purposes or as part of pilot projects, under the supervision of state agriculture departments or land-grant universities. Idaho chose not to allow for hemp production under the provisions of the 2014 farm bill.

Troy’s bill would allow Idaho farmers to commercially cultivate, grow and market hemp, under the regulation of the ISDA. She said there is a lot of support for doing that but she also anticipates some opposition from people who oppose hemp because it is the same species as marijuana.

Misunderstanding of the difference between hemp and marijuana “could be a problem,” she says.

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