Idaho lawmakers could soon be asked to change law on hemp

Erik Nelson speaks with Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, following Nelson's presentation on industrial hemp during the House Agricultural Affairs Committee's Feb. 6 meeting. Idaho lawmakers could soon be asked to change state law to allow industrial hemp to be grown in Idaho.

BOISE — The idea of making it legal to grow industrial hemp in Idaho, at least for research purposes, has been brought up several times during the 2017 Idaho Legislature.

A bill that would allow that could be introduced during the 2018 Idaho legislative session.

Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, plans to craft a bill that would change Idaho law to allow industrial hemp to be grown in the state for research.

Moon said she has been contacted by a lot of her constituents, including farmers, who are interested in growing hemp.

“There are a lot of people who want to grow it,” she said. “I’m optimistic; I think it’s going to happen.”

Moon plans to discuss the idea with farm groups after this year’s session ends and then craft a comprehensive bill that she hopes to introduce in 2018.

“I really want some thoughtful legislation on this,” she said.

Mark Frei, an Idaho County commissioner and farmer who grows 3,000 acres of wheat, barley, canola and lentils, recently briefed Food Producers of Idaho members on the opportunities industrial hemp offers.

“I think industrial hemp should be legal in Idaho,” he said. “I’m here to ask you for your endorsement of that idea.”

With depressed wheat and corn prices, “there is a real need to get some acres out of wheat and corn,” Frei said. “I do think it’s an alternative crop we should look into.”

During a separate presentation, Boise resident Erik Nelson talked to lawmakers about how Idaho farmers could benefit from growing industrial hemp and how it differs from marijuana.

The 2014 Farm Bill allows state departments of agriculture and universities to grow industrial hemp under a pilot program for research.

To do that, though, state law must define industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana, which Idaho law does not do.

Thirty-two states have done that and 28 have hemp crops, while seven states have licensed farmers to grow hemp, Nelson said.

The U.S. imports more than $500 million worth of hemp products annually, he said, and industrial hemp is used in more than 25,000 products.

“I can stand up here for an hour and not even scratch the surface of what you can do with hemp,” Nelson told lawmakers.

He said industrial hemp is a low-maintenance crop and the equipment used to harvest it is similar to the equipment used for corn and soybeans.

One acre of hemp can yield 700 pounds of seed, 22 gallons of oil and 5,300 pounds of straw, Nelson said.

“How do you like that as a crop?” he asked members of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee, which is dominated by farmers and ranchers. “I think this is an unparalleled economic opportunity for Idaho’s farmers...”

Frei said a major education campaign needs to occur before legislators are asked to change state law regarding hemp.

“There is a bigger ground game that has to happen before that,” he said.

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