The Oregon Department of Agriculture’s decision to promulgate regulations for the cultivation of hemp should send up red flags for any prudent farmer.
The state legislature approved growing hemp — a close cousin of marijuana — in 2009. But because growing either hemp or marijuana is still against federal law, no one had followed up on it. Now U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has decided not to prosecute anyone growing hemp in Oregon. The decision was made in reaction to votes in Washington state and Colorado legalizing marijuana. The attorney general apparently figured Oregon’s hemp law fell into the same stash.
Our fear has not so much to do with that decision — the U.S. Department of Justice has chosen which laws to enforce in the past. It even sued Arizona because the state was enforcing federal immigration laws.
But President Obama and Holder will be in office only three more years. Our fear is the next attorney general could take a hardline stance on hemp and marijuana and leave farmers in a lurch. Any investments in the cultivation of the crop could be at risk with the change of administration.
As a crop hemp is OK, but proponents oversell its attributes. They make it sound like the Next Big thing in agriculture. Hardly. Hemp is a utilitarian fiber used in low-tech industries such a rope-making and clothing. It is also gluten-free and its seeds can be used for a variety of purposes.
The Washington Legislature even toyed with ordering Washington State University researchers to look into how and where hemp can be grown. Here’s the answer: Hemp is grown legally in Canada, which is probably where it should stay pending a final determination by Congress on its legality. It should be noted that Canada also has a large illegal marijuana trade.
Our opinion is hemp is just a foot in the door for growing illegal marijuana. As such, it should be avoided. It should be noted that few farmers seem interested in growing the crop.
In our opinion, the greatest value of hemp is that it can be used as a “cover crop” for growing illegal marijuana in Oregon. Because it is nearly identical to marijuana, hemp is an effective camouflage for marijuana and could conceivably provide a means of laundering illegal marijuana money as hemp sales.
Taken all together, hemp appears to offer very little upside potential for farmers and a lot of downside.