Oregon: Hemp in Oregon waiting on the rules

Oregon: Industrial hemp fields just waiting on the rules

Oregon: Industrial hemp fields just waiting on the rulesNoelle Crombie – Oregon Department of Agriculture officials said Thursday the state will not have rules in place for a spring planting of an industrial hemp crop.

Jim Cramer, the agency’s director of market access and certification, said the recent passage of the federal Farm Bill, which included an industrial hemp provision, prompted state officials to slow down their rule-making efforts.

Congress this year approved a provision that allows colleges, universities and state agriculture programs to grow hemp for research and for pilot projects. It does not protect individual farmers who grow the crop, a non-intoxicating relative of marijuana grown for its sturdy fiber and seeds.

Cramer said his agency, which does not own land and lacks expertise in hemp production, is not considering such a program. Oregon State University, which under the new provision could produce and research hemp, isn’t planning on one either.

Russ Karow, head of the university’s crop soil science department, said the federal prohibition on marijuana poses too much of a risk for the university. He said lawyers for the school advised against a hemp program out of fear that it could potentially jeopardize the federal funding OSU receives.

Cramer pointed to a handful of factors that pose a challenge for industrial hemp production in the state, including how to legally obtain hemp seeds verified as low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, marijuana’s psychoactive component.

He said a hemp program, under state law, also requires handlers who are licensed to process the plant from its raw state into usable products.

“There are no current handlers” in Oregon, he said. “There are no people who are handling fiber or seed.”

Another issue: determining the level of interest among Oregonians in growing the crop. Cramer said that HAS made it tough to calculate licensing fees, which would support the program. Officials estimate licensing fees would range from $5,000 to $7,000 – an expense Cramer worries would impact participation.

“We don’t want a program to be cost prohibitive to the point where growers can’t do it,” he said.

The agency has asked legislature for money – about $76,000 — to help get the state’s industrial hemp program off the ground.

Oregon is one of a handful of states with laws that permit the production of industrial hemp. Agriculture officials have held off implementing the state’s 2009 law, saying they would wait until the federal government reclassified marijuana from a substance prone to abuse and lacking medicinal value.

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