The Idaho Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee on Feb. 20 endorsed legislation that would legalize industrial hemp production.
Senate Bill 1345 would add to state code the Industrial Hemp Research and Development Act, under which farmers could grow the crop under federal guidelines until the Idaho State Department of Agriculture develops a regulatory plan and secures USDA approval for it.
The legislation has an emergency clause, allowing it to take effect immediately on passage instead of at the start of the fiscal year July 1.
The December 2018 federal Farm Bill authorized production of hemp containing up to 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in marijuana, under strict guidelines. But Idaho is one of a few states where hemp is still not legal.
An amended hemp-authorization bill died in the 2019 legislative session, partly over concerns it would be hard to enforce and potentially lead to marijuana legalization.
Earlier, drivers of two trucks carrying hemp between states where it is legal were arrested in Idaho. Gov. Brad Little late last year issued an executive order authorizing interstate transport of hemp until the legislature passes a permanent solution.
Unlike last year’s bill, SB 1345 would not legalize cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a hemp extract associated with various health and wellness benefits. Separate 2020 legislation, Senate Bill 1253, would allow CBD containing up to 0.3% THC for pain relief.
Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, a co-sponsor of SB 1345, said it would enable Idaho producers to gain experience with the challenging-to-grow but potentially lucrative crop as ISDA develops a plan that is Idaho-customized and not more restrictive than federal standards.
Some states faced challenges meshing their industrial hemp plans with USDA’s interim final rule on hemp production, released Oct. 29, she said.
“Our cart is way ahead of the horse” nationally, Troy said. In Idaho, “we are just trying to get our horse caught up.”
The state’s sizable seed industry could benefit if industrial hemp production is made legal, she said.
The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation supports industrial hemp production, said Braden Jensen, deputy director of governmental affairs.
SB 1345, sponsored by Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, calls for ISDA to submit its plan to USDA by June 15. The bill’s text says the state plan will be “created in consultation with the governor, the chief law enforcement officer, and Idaho’s agricultural industry, and shall allow for the production, processing, and research of industrial hemp in Idaho to the greatest extent allowed under federal law.”
An attached purpose statement and fiscal note said the bill would set transport standards and amend the state’s Schedule 1 list of controlled substances to provide an exception for industrial hemp containing up to 0.3% THC.
Expected start-up costs include $100,000 for ISDA to coordinate planning efforts with stakeholders and to contract with experts in developing the state plan, and $50,000 for additional contracting and program expenses.
Grower, processor and transporter fees would help offset ongoing costs, though a supplemental budget appropriation for the department may be needed for 2021.