The Idaho House State Affairs Committee on March 11 voted 8-7 to hold a hemp-authorization bill, which likely means the crop will be illegal in the state for another year.

Committee Chairman Steven Harris, R-Meridian, said the vote means Senate Bill 1345 remains with the committee, which has authority to reintroduce it. But several people who testified in the March 11 hearing said reintroduction is unlikely given the legislative session is in its final weeks. State Affairs continued the hearing from March 10 to take more testimony.

Lawmakers in 2019 rejected a hemp bill. This year’s proposal, SB 1345, would authorize industrial hemp production only and exclude cannabidiol (CBD) oil, an extract associated with various health benefits.

The Senate on Feb. 27 approved SB 1345 on a 27-5-3 vote.

Supporters including bill co-sponsor Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, told committee members March 10 that farmers would benefit by being able to choose to grow hemp as a rotation crop. SB 1345 also addresses many concerns expressed during the 2019 legislative session, they said.

Opponents said that authorizing hemp could set the stage for approval of medicinal, and then recreational, marijuana; testing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content could prove cumbersome and unreliable; and the state should wait to approve hemp until it gathers more information about other states’ experiences.

Some questioned why State Affairs was hearing the bill instead of another committee.

The December 2018 federal Farm Bill authorized industrial hemp under strict guidelines, including that it contain no more than 0.3% THC.

SB 1345 would distinguish federally compliant industrial hemp from controlled substances, authorize its production, direct the state Department of Agriculture to develop a USDA-approved plan and set standards for transportation.

Gov. Brad Little in November signed an executive order allowing the interstate transport of hemp until the Legislature approves a permanent solution.

Troy said hemp won’t be easy to produce, “but Idaho growers want this crop.” Wheat farmers, for example, may find it attractive as a rotation crop.

Drew Eggers, a retired mint farmer from Meridian, spoke in support of the bill. He said hemp could be successful eventually somewhat like mint, which started modestly some 60 years ago but became a significant crop in southwest Idaho as better rootstock, inputs, equipment and cultivation practices were developed.

Tim Cornie, an organic farmer and mill operator in south-central Idaho, said ISDA inspections likely will be similar to those the agency conducts for organic farmers.

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, asked what would prevent the sale of hemp that tests show exceeds THC limits. Troy said there will be guidelines similar to existing state requirements for crop residue.

Lemhi County resident LaVerne Sessions, of Idahoans for Healthy Kids and Communities, said approving hemp would increase marijuana-related risks. Hemp, she said, is a labor-intensive crop that is hard to regulate and can easily cross-pollinate with marijuana. She and others urged more research.

Clint Shock, a retired Oregon State University horticulturalist and plant physiologist who is now a principal in Medicinal Botanical Seed in Ontario, Ore., said in an interview that the idea that the hemp industry is disorganized, and too costly and labor-intensive, is false. Serious growers take analytical approaches to planting, maintaining and harvesting hemp, he said. Moreover, Idaho growers would select the hemp that best meets their own seasonal and climate conditions.

Troy said many concerns about hemp, from regulation and enforcement to program fees, would be addressed in negotiated rule-making between ISDA and the industry.

Rep. Jerald Raymond, R-Menan, a rancher who serves on the Idaho House Agricultural Affairs Committee, said he has concerns about hemp but supports SB 1345, partly because the crop should be regulated by ISDA.

At the March 11 hearing, longtime former Idaho House Agricultural Affairs Committee Chairman Doug Jones urged State Affairs to endorse the bill to start the industry, anticipating that the enabling legislation and its administrative rules would be modified in future years as needs change.

“You never get a perfect piece of legislation to start a new program, ever,” he said.

Idaho is one of three states where hemp remains illegal. The South Dakota Legislature as of March 10 was considering an authorization bill. The other state is Mississippi.

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