By Taylor W. Anderson

The Bulletin

Bill in Salem — House Bill 4060 would allow hemp farmers to produce the cannabis plant in greenhouses and in ways that help promote the plant’s production of a highly valuable substance called cannabidiol, or CBD, that has potential medical benefits.

Chief sponsors: Reps. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass; David Gomberg, D-Otis; Val Hoyle, D-Eugene; Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego

History: Some prospective growers who wanted to produce hemp last year were rebuffed by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which questioned certain growing techniques and intended uses of the plant.

What’s next: Awaiting action in the Senate.

Online: Read the bill at Downloads/Measure Document/HB4060/ A-Engrossed

SALEM — Oregon House lawmakers approved a major overhaul of the state’s fledgling hemp industry Tuesday, raising the likelihood that farmers will begin producing the once-illicit cannabis plant for the first time in decades.

Prospective growers wanted to produce hemp last year but were rebuffed by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which questioned certain growing techniques and intended uses of the plant.

A bill that updates the state’s 2009 hemp law seeks to make it easier for growers, including several in Central Oregon, to produce hemp, the nonpsychoactive cousin of marijuana.

“We have an opportunity today to open a new field of endeavor in the state of Oregon, fields of nonpsychoactive, industrial hemp,” said Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass. “This is an amazing crop, and we have an opportunity to bring it to Oregon in a way that it has not been.”

Wilson said farmers who wanted to grow the plant withstood “a number of misfires,” and that House Bill 4060 was a chance to get it right.

The Bulletin reported that the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which will still oversee regulations on hemp growers, misrepresented to growers what the law permitted them to do with the plant.

Farmers produce hemp for myriad uses, including its edible seeds and oils, use in building materials and clothing, biofuels and for the potential medical benefits of an extract called cannabidiol, or CBD.

The agency for months told farmers the law didn’t allow them to produce CBD, which some believe has curative qualities strong enough to treat or even cure cancer. The product is sold as a dietary supplement, not a medicine, as hemp is illegal federally and therefore not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Agriculture Department was later told by the state Department of Justice its interpretation of the law was incorrect. The 2009 law allowed farmers to grow for whatever substance they wanted, according to a Justice Department memo in September.

The Department of Agriculture also believed growers weren’t following the 2009 law when they used horticultural techniques, such as spacing plants far apart, rather than in dense rows as is typical in farms producing fiber. But nothing in the law indicates spacing of plants.

Farmers were, however, accurately told they weren’t allowed to start hemp plants in a greenhouse, which is used to prolong the short growing season in Central Oregon.

In August, the Department of Agriculture suspended licensing hemp farmers after fewer than a dozen were licensed and got plants into the ground. The agency announced last week it would resume licensing again, but didn’t respond to requests for comment on the program.

“We have companies here in Oregon that are making food products from hemp,” said Rep. Val Hoyle, D-Eugene, adding that because of federal law and a lack of supply from Oregon growers, “they have to buy their hemp seed from farmers in Canada.”

Hemp products are legal in the U.S., but the plant itself was placed on the Controlled Substances Act because it can possess minute amounts of THC, the psychoactive ingredient also found in marijuana. Most products sold in stores come from overseas and Canada.

By law, hemp can possess no more than 0.3 percent THC, while marijuana sold in stores in Oregon typically has between 10 percent and 30 percent THC.

Farmers were also told they must plant hemp seeds directly into the ground, rather than using transplanted starters or cloned plants, a technique that keeps the plants genetically identical. House Bill 4060 will allow farmers to grow hemp however they want. It will require all products that are intended for human consumption to be tested in ways similar to requirements for marijuana.

“It’s just really a common sense approach to solving some issues that will really help Oregonians and provide for abundant economic opportunities for the state,” said Courtney Moran, a Portland attorney and lobbyist for the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association.

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,