OLYMPIA — A Washington businessman is pushing the state Department of Agriculture to revive its dormant hemp program so he can get seeds for spring plantings.
The department has declined to forward to the Drug Enforcement Administration an application from Cory Sharp, founder of HempLogic, to import hemp seeds, a federally controlled substance. The department says the program will be gone by spring anyway if lawmakers don’t fund it.
Sharp, whose state license to distribute seeds is good until June 1, said he’s willing to bet lawmakers will save the program. He also said he’s confident he can line up 500 acres for hemp this year, if he has government support.
Without it, he said he will resort to hauling seeds from Oregon, where the supply is less regulated, and plant 5 acres in protest. “I don’t want to be an activist. But, by gawd, I have too much time and money invested in this,” Sharp said. “I want my DEA permit.”
Washington issued seven one-year hemp permits before shutting down the program last fall after five months. License holders paid thousands of dollars in fees. The cost of overseeing the cultivation of a regulated crop, however, is far more, according to the department.
The department said it needed $287,000 in the next spending plan to continue the program. Lawmakers probably won’t pass a budget until at least mid-March.
“Things are on hold until we see what happens,” WSDA spokesman Hector Castro said. “We simply have to work with the situation we have.”
Two tribes and two Washington State University researchers have licenses. Sharp is involved in two of the other three licenses. Regardless of what happens in Washington, Sharp said he plans to develop a national company.
He announced Monday a partnership with a Colorado manufacturer, PowerZone Agriculture, to build a mobile decorticater to process hemp at farms throughout the U.S.
“To put it lightly, we’re very excited, Sharp said. “No matter what Washington does, the future of HempLogic is pretty darn bright.”
In Washington, viable hemp seeds are only legal if brought into the state with the permission of the DEA and first delivered to a WSDA locker in Spokane. Under federal law, growing hemp is only legal under the auspices of a state-run program.
To attract farmers for a large-scale planting, Sharp said he needs the blessing of the state.
“Let’s say they don’t give it. It puts me up against the state. Yet, they don’t have rules that say I can’t grow hemp, so they’re in a weird spot,” he said. “I’ll plant 5 acres just to prove a point.”
WSDA maintains unlicensed hemp farming is illegal. Yet state lawmakers, apparently confused about hemp’s federal status, removed hemp from the state’s controlled substance list. In the wake of that move, lawmakers instructed WSDA to write a rule to make clear the state has the authority to penalize unlicensed hemp farming.
Castro said the department plans to write the rule, no matter what happens to the hemp program.