Hemp will soon be a beautiful thing for Oregon
Hemp will soon be a beautiful thing for Oregon

Oregon’s marijuana bills continue to sail through the short legislative session, and they deservedly have been getting a lot of press. Because of all the media focus on proposed changes to the state’s medical and recreational pot programs, however, another piece of cannabis legislation has proceeded to little fanfare. That proposed law is HB 4060, regarding Oregon hemp.

Last summer, we wrote that Oregon hemp was hanging by a thread. This was due to concerns with cross-pollination of marijuana crops, the inability of hemp farmers to acquire seeds, and a myriad of cumbersome program requirements. Some of these requirements were codified by Senate Bill 676, like the rule that hemp must be grown in fields of 2.5 acres or more, and others were read into the law by Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), like missives that hemp could not be grown in greenhouses, and that it must only be produced for fiber, not cannabidiol (CBD). By the time the Oregon Department of Justice addressed ODA’s muddled understanding of SB 676 last fall, the program had basically stalled.

HB 4060 addresses all of these issues. The new law would remove the acreage requirement and allow farmers to use transplanted starters and cloned plants. HB 4060 also would require hemp products and commodities intended for human consumption to be tested and screened. These items would need to meet Oregon Health Authority (OHA) purity standards, which presumably would be the same standards applicable to recreational and medical marijuana.

HB 4060 is straightforward in that it contains just two classes of hemp registrants: growers and handlers. A “grower” is a “person, joint venture or cooperative that produces industrial hemp.” A “handler” is a “person, joint venture or cooperative that receives industrial hemp for processing into commodities, products or agricultural hemp seed.” Interestingly, growers who are also handlers would be allowed to process industrial hemp on location, provided of course that the processing comports with land use plans and zoning ordinances.

The Oregon Farm Bureau is supporting HB 4060 because it wants hemp to be “treated like other crops.” That sounds right to us, and by all indications HB 4060 is going to pass. The bill was approved 8-1 by the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources on February 11 and it now sits in Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. Like the sexier marijuana bills now under consideration, HB 4060 is an “emergency” bill and would take effect as soon as Governor Brown signs.

Assuming HB 4060 passes, it is an open question whether hemp farmers will have time to get plants in the ground this season. For its part, ODA seems optimistic. The agency is accepting applications for licenses to grow and handle hemp for the 2016 season. These licenses and permits will be issued on an annual basis, as opposed to the previous three-year license and permit (only 13 of which were ever issued).

Though it may seem strange that industrial hemp is lagging behind medical and even recreational marijuana in Oregon, we are pleased that the state finally appears to be getting it right. According to Congressional Research Service estimates, once federal support kicks in the U.S. hemp product industry will be valued at $581 million annually. If Oregon gets on board early, we here in the state should see a nice slice of that.