By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
BOISE – The first step has been taken to allow industrial hemp to be grown and processed in Idaho.
Members of Idaho’s Agricultural Affairs Committee agreed Feb. 8 to print a bill that would allow for that. A public hearing on the legislation will be held later.
The 2018 farm bill, signed into law in December by President Trump, classifies hemp as a regular agricultural crop, which means U.S. farmers can now legally grow and sell it.
But the farm bill’s hemp provisions do not trump state law and hemp is currently a controlled substance and illegal to grow in Idaho.
The bill introduced into the Idaho Legislature Feb. 8 would change that.
“This bill is pretty simple; it just allows for hemp to be grown in Idaho under the full extent of the farm bill,” said Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee , the bill’s co-sponsor, along with Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley.
The bill also directs the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to promulgate rules on hemp production and processing in Idaho and permits ISDA and universities to conduct hemp research.
Hemp is used in more than 20,000 products, including fiber, food, building materials, fuel, animal feed, paper, seed meal, clothes, cosmetics and yarn.
But while hemp products have always been sold in the United States, it has not been legal to grow and process hemp domestically for commercial purposes. The new farm bill changes that and also allows producers to purchase federally subsidized crop insurance for hemp and apply for research grants.
Hemp plants are the same species as marijuana, but hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive compound that gets marijuana users high.
“It is literally physically impossible for somebody to become high from (hemp),” Thom Brodeur-Kazanjian, an Arizona businessman and hemp entrepreneur, told members of the House ag affairs committee Feb. 4 during a presentation on hemp.
During that presentation, he and other supporters of legalizing hemp in Idaho said the state’s farming community stands to benefit by being allowed to grow hemp.
Many other states are already ahead of Idaho in hemp production, since the 2014 farm bill allowed for hemp to be grown for research purposes if states chose to allow that. Idaho did not.
During 2017, almost 26,000 acres of hemp were grown in the United States for research purposes and 32 universities conducted hemp research on the crop, according to the website, votehemp.com.
Idaho is one of three states with a blanket ban on hemp, Brodeur-Kazanjian said.
There is currently a race by states to be at the forefront of hemp farming and processing, Brodeur-Kazanjian said. “Right now Idaho is not in the race at all. Idaho hasn’t even lined up for the race.”
Troy, vice chairwoman of the House ag committee, told Farm Bureau there is significant interest in growing hemp among some Idaho farmers.
“Those who are interested are enthusiastically interested in growing hemp,” she said.
About $800 million worth of hemp products were sold in the United States last year but the hemp used to make them was imported from other nations.
The bill sponsored by Troy and Moon would allow Idaho farmers to join their counterparts in other states in producing the hemp for those products.
Supporters of hemp say now that it’s legal to grow it in the United States, they expect it to quickly grow into a billion-dollar industry.