A bill to allow Idaho farmers to grow hemp for industrial and medicinal uses, as well as allow neighboring states to transport hemp across Idaho, was passed by the House on March 18.
HB122 — approved in a 63-7 vote — now goes to the Senate Agricultural Committee. If it passes there, the next stop is the full Senate.
The bill is significant because the 2018 federal Farm Bill made growing and shipping such products legal nationwide if they have below 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) by dry weight. But current Idaho law forbids products if they contain any THC whatsoever. Without the bill, Idaho will be out of sync with federal law.
“We were working with law enforcement to address their concerns, and they sent different drafts our way with no real consideration given to the interstate commerce, which is a big part of the 2018 Farm Bill,” said Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, one of the bill’s sponsors. “We decided we wanted a vote on the original bill.”
In fact, the House was so eager to vote on the bill that it suspended rules so it could be voted on more quickly.
Under Idaho’s current law, farmers can’t grow industrial hemp, and companies shipping the product across the state run the risk of having it seized. Such a shipment, between two states where industrial hemp is legal, has already been seized, and the case is working its way through the courts.
At an Associated Press meeting on March 12 with House leadership, Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, appeared resigned to having to pass the bill. Bedke did express concern, as had Gov. Brad Little, that it would offer a front for marijuana dealers to grow or ship that crop, which would remain illegal in Idaho.
The Legislature’s intent is to conform with the Farm Bill, in “careful coordination” with the law enforcement community, Bedke said.
SB1166, a supplemental appropriation of $240,000 under an emergency clause — meaning it can be spent right away, instead of waiting until the new fiscal year on July 1 — would also fund the Idaho State Police to buy equipment to test hemp THC levels. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and the Senate backed SB1166.
However, Bedke wasn’t convinced that hemp would be the agricultural panacea that supporters of the bill suggest. It was important to pass the bill “so we can get Idaho farmers in the process of ruining that market” due to oversupply, he said. He equated industrial hemp to ethanol, which was also supposed to provide a cash crop for farmers.
Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, House minority leader, said it would be “deeply disappointing” if a hemp bill didn’t pass, adding that some members of the Idaho Legislature were more “spooked” by marijuana than almost any other substance. At the same time, he agreed that when all the states started growing hemp, pricing would likely fall through the floor.
Recently, the Portland Business Journal reported that registrants in the Oregon Department of Agriculture hemp program told the state last year that they expected to plant 11,514 acres. This year’s total is already up to 25,414 acres, the newspaper noted.
And according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, hemp processors reported $57.75 million in gross product sales last year, compared with $16.7 million in 2017. Processors paid Kentucky farmers $17.75 million for harvested hemp materials in 2018, up from $7.5 million the year before.
Kentucky also noted that hemp processors spent $23.4 million in capital improvements and employed a total of 459 people in 2018.
Nationwide, in 2018, 78,176 acres of hemp were grown — 22,000 of which were in Montana and 21,578 in Colorado.
Idaho is one of just three states that still outlaws industrial hemp, along with Nebraska and South Dakota, but both of those states also have hemp legalization bills working through their respective legislatures.