The Association of Oregon Counties is willing to strip away controversial hemp-related provisions from a bill the organization supports after encountering opposition.

Oregon’s county governments have backed off a cannabis tracking proposal that met with opposition from the state’s hemp industry.

Changes to Oregon’s hemp laws are being discussed during the 2020 legislative session in reaction to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new nationwide regulations for the crop.

To comply with the federal requirements, lawmakers are considering vesting the Oregon Department of Agriculture with additional authorities over hemp.

Without these provisions, the state’s hemp farmers would come under the direct jurisdiction of the federal agency later this year.

The revisions included in one proposal, House Bill 4072, are supported by Oregon State University, the Oregon Farm Bureau and the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association, which says they’re necessary to preserve the state’s position as a top hemp producer.

“This bill is exceedingly important for us to maintain our own oversight and regulation of this industry and as a result continue our national leadership in this important sector,” said Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, chief sponsor of HB 4072.

Specifically, HB 4072 would allow the state department of agriculture to conduct criminal background checks of hemp growers and to conform the state’s hemp rules with federal regulations required under the 2018 Farm Bill.

The Association of Oregon Counties supports an alternative proposal.

House Bill 4158, that would include these provisions but would also require hemp farmers to submit proof they can legally irrigate their crops.

Under the bill, identification tracking tags would also have to be attached to shipments of cannabis, which includes hemp as well as marijuana, a variant of the plant that contains psychoactive levels of THC.

Law enforcement officers would be able to seize cannabis that violates the tracking tag requirement.

The Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association objected to these additional requirements during a Wednesday legislative hearing, arguing they’re unnecessarily onerous for the Oregon Department of Agriculture as well as growers.

“We do want to collaborate with law enforcement,” said Courtney Moran, the association’s president.

However, it’s unacceptable to bring hemp under the same regulations as marijuana without examining the higher costs for farmers and other issues, she said.

The Oregon Farm Bureau agreed that HB 4158’s concept of placing hemp transportation under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission wasn’t properly vetted.

“Our members don’t feel OLCC tracking is appropriate for a legal agricultural commodity,” said Mary Anne Cooper, vice president of public policy for the group.

The Association of Oregon Counties recognizes that hemp is a significant new crop with a vibrant future, said Rob Bovett, the group’s interim executive director and legal counsel.

The association simply wants to prevent it from providing cover for the illegal transportation of marijuana to other states, he said.

“We seem to be leaking a lot of THC out of the hemp program into the interstate black market,” Bovett said.

Even so, the Association of Oregon Counties wants to move forward with other revisions in HB 4158 specific to marijuana law, so it’s willing to strip away the elements opposed by the hemp industry, subject to further discussions, he said.

“We want that out of this bill ,” Bovett said.

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