The prohibition of marijuana in Oregon is having unintended consequences that a lot of people aren’t thinking about. Take, for example, our senseless approach to hemp, which underscores how our marijuana laws overreach.
Go into specialty groceries in Portland and Eugene and you can buy hemp seed for $13 a pound to put onto your cereal or bake into your bread. My wife has even seen hemp available for sale at Costco. Hemp in Oregon is easy to buy.
But it’s illegal for Oregon farmers to grow it. Why? Because hemp is closely related to marijuana and considered a dangerous narcotic.
That does not make sense. Hemp is not a drug. Its THC content is less than 0.03 percent, too low to get you high. Instead, hemp is a useful plant that can be turned into food, oil, wax, rope, cloth, paper and pulp.
Oregonians are paying the consequences for our strange approach to hemp. Canadians have a 20-year lead on us in hemp research. They make half a billion dollars a year, and most of the product from Canada — about 90 percent — is exported to the United States.
Oregonians shouldn’t be forced to buy hemp from Canada or China when Oregon farmers could be growing that sustainable cash crop right here, producing jobs and money for our economy. I’ve advocated for years to allow hemp to be grown in Oregon. Now we have a chance to finally make it happen.
In addition to legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana, Measure 91 would compel the state Department of Agriculture to start handing out permission to farmers to get into the hemp industry. It would be a lot better to pay farmers in Oregon than to fine or arrest them.
Plus, it’s not just farmers. There is an entire hemp economy sitting on the sidelines waiting for voters to pass this law.
I work as a sales and distribution manager at a textile and burlap company near Woodburn. Once farmers grow hemp, people like us would process the fibers. We would sell it to the next users who would turn it into clothes people pay top dollar for in boutique shops.
BMW has recently begun using hemp fibers in its cars because it’s cheaper and more sustainable than fiberglass. China is moving away from cotton in favor of hemp because it takes half the water to grow the same amount. There is a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in Oregon and the old way of doing things is holding us back.
Prohibition means no research into growing hemp. We can’t figure out what strains would grow best in our climate. No test crops are being considered. We are falling further behind. The sooner we change that, the faster we can get to work driving the Oregon economy, instead of feeding foreign economies.
When I tell people there are 20,000 uses for hemp, they always ask me, “Why aren’t we growing it here?” I can’t see a good reason. I want my two young boys to grow up in a place with more opportunities, not a place that history passed by. Join me in voting “yes” on Measure 91. Let’s lead the nation in this new economy.
Ryan Basile lives in Silverton and works for a textile manufacturer and horticulture supply company located in Woodburn, Ore.