SALEM — After years of delay from state agencies running Oregon’s hemp program, the Legislature aired its latest ideas for hemp in Oregon. Among them: folding hemp into the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program but not limiting the number of plants growers can produce.
The proposal appears to directly address the setbacks growers said they faced last year during Oregon’s first legal hemp season in decades. The state Department of Agriculture told growers they couldn’t use greenhouses or other techniques that are also used in the marijuana industry.
The concept introduced by Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, would rewrite the state’s 2009 law that first legalized hemp and explicitly allow hemp farmers to grow the plant in any way they want, potentially opening up the clearest pathway for Oregonians to farm hemp after years of bureaucratic delays.
“I have great excitement and exuberance about this product and what it can do,” Wilson said Wednesday.
The proposal, which received a largely warm unveiling during a public hearing in the Legislature’s marijuana committee Wednesday, comes after growers faced with pushback from the Department of Agriculture harvested few acres in Oregon’s first legal hemp season.
Farmers had been eager to grow hemp, which has virtually no psychoactive ingredients, for another product that is potentially highly profitable: cannabidiol, or CBD oil.
In addition to its fibers, edible seeds and potential as a biofuel and building material, hemp if grown well can produce high quantities of CBD, which some believe has curative qualities capable of treating and even curing cancer and other ailments.
The U.S. consumes more hemp products than any other country, yet all of it in recent decades has come from other countries after the U.S. made hemp illegal because of its close relation to marijuana.
Wilson said he brought a bag of hemp hearts to the Capitol lunchroom and offered to sprinkle them on the salads of fellow representatives, some of whom believed the product would get them high.
“There’s a lot of education that has to take place on this subject,” Wilson said.
When farmers lined up to grow hemp for CBD oil, the Department of Agriculture bristled, telling hemp growers the 2009 law legalizing hemp didn’t allow CBD production.
The agency suspended issuing new hemp licenses in August, and later released a state Department of Justice memo from September that said the agency was wrong when it told farmers the law limited what they could grow for.
The DOJ memo did say the 2009 law legalizing hemp didn’t mention the word “greenhouse,” so that technique was illegal, and that farmers must directly plant hemp seeds into the ground.
All of those hang-ups would change under Wednesday’s proposal, which was written with heavy input from the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association, the hemp farmers’ organization founded last year.
Under the proposal, the state would require all hemp for human consumption to be tested in the same way as marijuana grown under the state’s medical and recreational marijuana markets. The state would also register — rather than license — hemp farmers.
“There really aren’t other crops that are required to be licensed,” said Courtney Moran, a Portland attorney who organized the hemp association.
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