Unwanted “volunteer” hemp plants are the expected target of pending Oregon regulations aimed at preventing weeds, disease and pests.

A wild-growing field of hemp is causing a headache for Jon Auw and other neighboring hemp growers in Oregon’s Malheur County.

“Volunteer” male hemp plants have sprung up from seeds that scattered in the field last year, pollinating nearby female hemp plants and producing undesirable seeds, Auw said.

“It’s just a hodgepodge of whatever sprouts, wherever it sprouts,” he said.

The landowner who owns the wild-growing hemp refuses to control the plants, arguing that neighbors who want seed-free hemp should grow their crops indoors, Auw said.

That attitude doesn’t sit right with Auw, whose female hemp flowers are grown for cannabidiol, a compound commonly known as CBD that’s thought to have healthful qualities and is degraded by the presence of seeds.

“You should be responsible for your pollen just like I’d be if my 2,4-D drifted over,” he said, referring to the herbicide.

Oregon farm regulators are now in the early stages of crafting rules intended to thwart weed, pest and disease issues caused by such “volunteer” cannabis plants.

At this stage, the Oregon Department of Agriculture is consulting with state legal experts to determine the extent of its power to regulate the newly burgeoning crop and get a handle on these problems.

“How do we use our existing authority to deal with the issues coming at us and promote coexistence within the industry?” asked Lisa Hanson, the agency’s deputy director.

The formation of a “rules advisory committee” of industry stakeholders to consider draft regulations probably won’t occur until next year, she said. “We’re very early in terms of thinking about it.”

Even so, ODA wants to confront the issue of cannabis volunteers emerging from old or abandoned fields “sooner rather than later” due to complaints the agency has already received about unwanted seedlings, she said.

“We don’t need any additional noxious weed pressures,” Hanson said.

While ODA will need to consult with other state agencies that regulate marijuana — the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and Oregon Health Authority — the rules will likely focus mostly on hemp, over which it has primary licensing jurisdiction.

Cannabis includes both marijuana, which has psychoactive properties, and hemp, which doesn’t but is often cultivated for cannabidiol, or CBD, that’s most potent in unpollinated flowers.

The potential for marijuana operations to have problems with volunteers is lower because they’re limited to under an acre, said Sunny Summers, cannabis policy coordinator at ODA. To compare, there is no size limit on hemp fields and the crop is being grown on more than 63,000 acres in Oregon this year. The planned cannabis regulations are aimed at preventing crop problems rather than targeting unlicensed hemp growers or those producing marijuana without approval, she said. “It’s not about trying to catch illegal marijuana guys. That’s for law enforcement.”

By using legal authorities to stop hemp from becoming a “ditch weed” familiar to the Midwest, the ODA’s rules would mitigate concerns about cross-pollination, said Hanson. However, it’s not the agency’s intention to require farmers to remove male plants from licensed fields or participate in a “pinning map” system to monitor hemp field locations.

More likely, the agency’s rules will be comparable to those that prevent decrepit fruit orchards from becoming repositories for disease or brassica seed fields from generating weedy volunteers, she said.

The agency would focus on gaining compliance but also have a regulatory backstop to ensure people don’t ignore the problem, Hanson said. “It’s a different crop with the same issues. It’s trying to figure out how to maneuver it.”

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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