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Legislation legalizing hemp in Idaho heads to full Senate

The state Senate will consider legislation to legalize hemp that Idaho Gov. Brad Little said Monday could get his signature if amendments sought by law enforcement officials are approved.

The amendments seek to make it possible for officials to intercept marijuana, illegal in the state, without being stymied by laws that make hemp legal.

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted unanimously to send the legislation to the full Senate to add amendments to the bill that has already passed the House.

“I was a little chagrined that it got out of the House without those amendments,” Little, a Republican, said shortly after the committee vote. “But it sounds like there’s pretty good concurrence on the amendments.”

The legislation would legalize the growing and selling of hemp products containing 0.3 percent or less of THC, the cannabis compound that gives marijuana its high. Backers say the state’s climate is ideal for growing hemp that could produce millions of dollars in revenue for Idaho farmers.

Opponents say legalizing hemp could make it more difficult to enforce the state’s prohibition against marijuana. Hemp is a crop that comes from the same family of plants that produces marijuana, and determining the THC levels of the plants, opponents say, can be time-consuming and expensive.

“This isn’t about an Ag issue out there, at least to me,” said Republican Sen. Chuck Winder. “This is about how do you provide a balance of allowing for potentially a crop that could be beneficial, without the disadvantage of the THC. So if there’s a balance that can be struck between the sponsors and law enforcement, I think that’s how we ought to go.”

Supporters said during the committee hearing the state could benefit from growing hemp by selling hemp seeds and a hemp-derived extract called cannabidiol, or CBD, seen by many as a health aid.

In its purified distilled form, CBD oil commands thousands of dollars per kilogram, and farmers can make more than $100,000 an acre growing hemp plants to produce it. That distillate can also be converted into a crystallized form or powder.

Scott Bandy of the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association said his group opposed the legislation because it would, among other things, prevent law enforcement officials from using dogs to sniff out illegal hemp and marijuana and would prevent detaining potential lawbreakers.

Republican Sen. Abby Lee, who presented the legislation to the committee, said hemp is already legal on the federal level.

“In order to preserve our primacy for how hemp would be regulated in our state, we really need to do something this session,” she said.

The U.S. Congress, led by Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, late last year passed legislation that effectively legalized hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill that was signed into law by President Donald Trump.

About The Associated Press