The Washington State Department of Agriculture has started to develop rules to fine unlicensed hemp growers and processors, an exercise made necessary by state legislators getting ahead of federal law.
WSDA also may draw up penalties for violating the conditions of state-issued hemp licenses. Currently, the department can take away licenses, but not levy fines.
WSDA hasn’t yet come up with suggested penalties and plans to circulate a preliminary proposal before making a formal proposal, officials said. The department expects to have fines in place by June.
The rule-writing was occasioned by the Legislature this year removing hemp from the state’s list of controlled substances, a move that WSDA warned could cause confusion by casting doubt on the department’s authority to stop unlicensed hemp cultivation, which would violate federal law.
Lawmakers followed up by directing the department to develop penalties for the unlicensed growing of hemp.
A WSDA spokesman said the department doesn’t know of any unlicensed hemp farming or processing taking place.
Four licensed growers planted 180 acres of hemp this summer, the first year of legal plantings, according to WSDA.
WSDA has issued seven hemp-related licenses, including two to Washington State University researchers. The licenses include strict requirements meant to keep the state program within federal law.
Congress authorized state-supervised hemp programs in the 2014 Farm Bill, but has not removed hemp from the federal list of controlled substances. The Drug Enforcement Administration gave WSDA permission to bring hemp seeds into the state to plant.
The department has collected about $8,100 from licenses and fees. The department has requested $287,000 in general taxes to support the fledgling program for two more years.
Current federal law does not distinguish between hemp and marijuana. Legislation to legalize hemp has been before Congress for more than a decade. Another bill introduced this year would allow hemp farmers to irrigate with federal water. Neither bill has received a hearing yet.