Courtesy Richard A. Howard, USDA NRCS
Don Jenkins/Capital Press
The Washington State Department of Agriculture is informally circulating a proposal to fine unlicensed hemp farmers, seed sellers and processors up to $15,000.
The maximum penalty, double the most that WSDA can levy for exposing bystanders to pesticides, would be just enough to cover the department’s costs to prosecute a case, said Jason Ferrante, assistant director of the commodity inspection division.
“We felt $15,000 is in the ballpark of what we need to pursue an offender,” he said Tuesday.
WSDA started issuing hemp licenses last spring, but has not adopted a schedule of fines for dealing in hemp without a license or for violating terms of license. WSDA hopes to have penalties on the books by the end of June. By then, however, the matter may be moot.
The department may end the hemp program unless legislators appropriate funds to keep it going. The other option would be to impose about a 15-fold increase in license, inspection and testing fees, Ferrante said.
License holders already pay fees that total hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Without a state program, growing hemp, a federally controlled substance, would be illegal in Washington, according to WSDA.
The department, however, has only $10,500 on hand now to stop illicit hemp. That’s only enough for a website and to pass on complaints to local authorities about unlicensed businesses, Ferrante said.
WSDA last fall submitted a request for $287,000 to continue the hemp program. The Governor’s Office did not include the money in the budget proposal it sent the Legislature.
Bonny Jo Peterson, who founded the Industrial Hemp Association of Washington last year, said Monday that she was confident lawmakers will fund the program.
“I’m working with Democrats and Republicans,” she said. “There is strong support.”
As part of the governor’s administration, WSDA is not lobbying for the money. It’s only watching and waiting, Ferrante said. “You never know until the bill is signed by the governor,” he said.
In the meantime, here are some penalties the department is considering. It may make a formal proposal in mid-March.
• Up to $15,000 for growing hemp without a license.
• Up to $15,000 for growing hemp with a THC concentration of more than 1 percent. Hemp plants that test under 1 percent but higher than the legal limit of .3 percent would be destroyed. THC is the psychoactive drug in marijuana.
• Up to $15,000 for manufacturing hemp oil for human consumption. Hemp oil, or cannabidiol, is sold as a nutritional supplement.
• Up to $15,000 for bringing viable hemp seeds or plants into the state without WSDA approval.
• Up to $1,000 for planting hemp within 4 miles of a marijuana farm.
• Hemp processed in homes would be destroyed, but no fine.
• Up to $500 for not sending records to WSDA.
• Up to $500 for not posting department-provided signs on every side of every field.