Senators propose law so ‘farmers can grow hemp’

Hemp plants tower above researchers who tend to them at a research farm in Lexington, Kentucky, Aug. 13, 2015. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in late March he wants to bring hemp production back into the mainstream by removing it from the controlled substances list that now associates it with marijuana, its illicit cousin.

WASHINGTON — Oregon’s two U.S. senators have joined Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in introducing legislation to legalize and define hemp as an agricultural commodity, delisting it as a controlled substance.

This would allow commercialization of hemp and its associated products across the nation, said Courtney Moran, founder of the Oregon Industrial Hemp Growers Association and an advocate for industrial hemp.

The legislation would allow states to be the lead regulators of hemp, allow research to apply for grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and allow hemp growers to seek crop insurance, according to a joint statement issued by the senators’ media representatives.

Joining McConnell in introducing the “Hemp Farming Act of 2018” were Democrat Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.

“It is far past time for Congress to pass this commonsense, bipartisan legislation to end the outrageous anti-hemp, anti-farmer and anti-jobs stigma that’s been codified into law and is holding back growth in American agriculture jobs and our economy at large,” Wyden said.

“Hemp products are made in this country, sold in this country and consumed in this country. Sen. McConnell, our colleagues and I are going to keep pushing to make sure that if Americans can buy hemp products at the local supermarket, American farmers can grow hemp in this country.”

Oregon governs its own

In Oregon, production and handling of agriculture hemp seed, growing and handling of hemp is licensed and governed by the Oregon Department of Agriculture under Oregon law.

“Industrial hemp is an agricultural commodity that is cultivated for use in the production of a wide range of products, including foods and beverages, cosmetics and personal care products, and nutritional supplements, as well as fabrics and textiles, yarns and spun fibers, paper, construction and insulation materials, and other manufactured goods,” according to a Congressional Research Office report, by Renee Johnson.

According to the state ag department’s database, there are 289 hemp growers registered with the department, including four registered in Malheur County, and 107 handlers or processors.

While the original hemp legislation was passed in Oregon in 2009, Moran said, the rule-making for the law did take place until 2013 and the first licenses were issued by the state Ag Department in 2015.

“The program has grown exponentially,” Moran said, and it is drawing a lot of people to Oregon.

In 2015 there were nine growers. That number climbed to 77 in 2016 and more than 200 in 2017 and, Moran said, she expects that the number could reach 300 by the end of this year.

The Argus attempted to contact the owners of the four farms registered to grow hemp in Malheur County. One refused comment, the other three could not be reached.

The latest legislation on industrial hemp elevates the existing program to a pilot program, allowing Oregon State University to do research on the crop and establish certified seed.

Growers and processors have a choice to be licensed through the ODA or be regulated through the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s marijuana program.

However, industrial hemp can not contain more than 0.3 percent THC, said Sunny Jones, ODA cannabis policy coordinator. THC is what provides the high in marijuana.

Most of the current production of hemp in Oregon is for CBD oil, for medicinal purposes, but there is an increasing interest in producing grains for food products and for fibers, Moran said.

A lot of grain products are coming from Canada, she added.

In addition to helping write Oregon’s industrial hemp laws, Moran, an attorney, is also help write similar laws in other states, she said and also worked with the senators and their staffs on writing the federal bill, she said.

Moran said the Oregon Hemp Farmers Association has 50 members and the goal is to establish as sustainable industry, supporting the growers. Another one of her goals would be to establish a Northwest Industrial Hemp Growers Association chapter.

Larry Meyer is a reporter for the Argus Observer.

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