With hemp production zooming toward the top of the list of commodities grown in Oregon, lawmakers are again considering setting up a commission to raise money for research and promotions.
Aside from establishing the Oregon Industrial Hemp Commission, which would be sustained by charging assessments to growers, House Bill 2740 would also align the state and federal definitions of the crop.
An earlier proposal to create a commodity commission for hemp was unanimously approved by the House Agriculture Committee in 2017 but ultimately died for unclear reasons in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.
Hemp is poised to become the state’s top agricultural commodity with more than $1 billion in revenues in 2019, up from roughly $500 million last year, said Jay Noller, head of Oregon State University’s Crop and Soil Science Department.
With that burgeoning growth, the industry will need to find ways to offset problems that lie ahead, as well as fund and direct OSU research for the crop, Noller said. “We see some issues coming up.”
The legislation would harmonize Oregon’s statutory language for hemp with the federal government’s, which has recently changed with the national legalization of hemp through the 2018 Farm Bill, said Courtney Moran, an attorney and president of the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association.
A planned amendment to HB 2740 would also authorize hemp to be tested under food safety protocols that are less expensive than those for marijuana, the psychoactive form of cannabis, Moran said.
Tests would still have to confirm hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC, but it wouldn’t be subject to as many different tests as marijuana, which would reduce the cost, she said.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, and Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Coos Bay, who testified in favor of the proposal at a Feb. 19 legislative hearing.
“We think it’s going to further boost the hemp economy and put Oregon on the map for doing some very good things,” Wilson said.
During the hearing, the House Committee on Agriculture and Land Use also heard from Oregon onion growers on House Bill 2451, which would eliminate mandatory state inspections of the crop.
Several onion farmers testified that ongoing in-house onion inspections, as well as a federal onion marketing order, have made mandatory inspections by the Oregon Department of Agriculture outdated and redundant.
“The law is archaic and really has nothing to do with business today,” said Kay Riley, general manager of the Snake River Produce Co. in Nyssa, Ore.
Nobody testified against the bill, which would reverse a shipping point inspection requirement enacted in 1955 with the support of onion growers.
At the conclusion of its Feb. 19 meeting, the committee also unanimously approved four bills that would raise ODA’s maximum license fees for weighing and measuring devices, eliminate an administrative fee for pesticide applicators, extend the agency’s authority to increase certain food license fees and allow it to close food establishments that refuse to pay fees.