Courtesy of Colville Confederated Tribes
Washington’s regulated hemp crop this year may consist entirely of 120 acres cultivated by the Colville Confederated Tribes in north-central Washington.
The tribe is the only grower so far to take part in the second season of the state Department of Agriculture’s hemp program. If no other grower emerges, the state’s hemp acreage will be one-third less than the 180 acres cultivated by five growers in 2017.
“I’d sure like to see it become more viable for farmers,” said state Sen. Judy Warnick, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee. “I think it’s something that we need to have a discussion with the Department of Agriculture about.”
Washington is one of 35 states that have authorized state-supervised hemp farming, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The supervision keeps hemp growers within federal law, which does not make a distinction between hemp and marijuana plants.
Hemp advocates continue to hope Congress will outright legalize hemp. In the meantime, states have set up programs with varying degrees of regulation.
Washington bans making CBD oil, an extract sold as a nutritional supplement. The state also forbids seeds from crossing state lines. Seeds must be imported with the approval of the Drug Enforcement Administration. The rules are intended to keep Washington within federal law, but are not followed by all other states.
In another barrier, Washington bars growing hemp within 4 miles of marijuana fields or greenhouses to prevent cross-pollination.
Bonny Jo Peterson of the Industrial Hemp Association of Washington said Tuesday that several potential growers have been stalled because they can’t buy seeds from Oregon.
If that and other rules are relaxed by 2019, “next year will be ridiculous,” she said. “I’m going to say there would be hundreds of growers.”
The agriculture department has not proposed any rule revisions, though there is the possibility that it will. The department plans to hire a hemp program coordinator, an agency spokesman said.
The Colville tribes will double the 60 acres it planted last year, tribal conservation director Jackie Richter said Monday in an email. She called hemp an “amazing crop” with economic potential and environmental benefits.
The Colville tribe also has a license to process hemp. Washington forbids transporting unprocessed hemp out of state.
“It’s a slow process due to WA state’s highly regulated program, but we have high hopes that they are working to make it more farmer friendly,” Richter wrote.
Washington House Agriculture Committee Chairman Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, said he was “frustrated that things aren’t simpler.”
Congress should legalize hemp instead of saddling states with supervising “so-called research projects,” he said.
“It’s silly where we are,” Blake said. “It’s just crazy. It’s a totally innocuous plant used to make rope.”
Washington’s hemp program for 2018 got off to a bad start. The agriculture department suspended it over the winter months until state lawmakers appropriated money to resume processing applications in the spring.
Peterson said a few growers could still plant this year if they quickly solve their seed-supply problems. “I don’t see how they can possibly pull it off,” she said.