In light of the recent federal legalization of industrial hemp, Washington lawmakers are taking a hard look at the state’s hemp program. Senators Bob Hasegawa (D) of Beacon Hill, Steve Conway (D) of Tacoma, and Karen Keiser (D) of Kent recently introducing Senate Bill 5719. The stated purpose of SB 5719 is as follows:
Authorize the growing of hemp as a legal, agricultural activity in this state. Hemp is an agricultural product that may be legally grown, produced, processed, possessed, transferred, commercially sold, and traded. Hemp and hemp products produced in accordance with this chapter may be transferred and sold within the state, outside of this state, and internationally. Nothing in this chapter is intended to prevent or restrain commerce in this state involving hemp or hemp products produced lawfully under the laws of another state or country.”
The bill requires Washington comply with the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed industrial hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act, and which provides for state-and tribe-level programs for the cultivation of industrial hemp. As such, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (“WSDA”) would need to submit a plan to US Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) pursuant to the 2018 Farm Bill. The plan must address licensing, THC testing, enforcement, and a host of other topics required under federal law.
It’s too early to tell whether SB 5719 will ultimately become law, but it’s worth keeping an eye on at this point (and will be covered in our upcoming free CBD Webinar on February 21 at 12:00 PST). Here are some of the key provisions:
Food and Hemp
SB 5719 would repeal Washington’s Industrial Hemp Research Program (RCW 15.120 et seq.) completely. This program was created under the 2014 Farm Bill, which was fairly light on details and limited to hemp cultivation for “research” purposes. Washington’s hemp program is fairly limited and has never really taken off like it has in Colorado, Kentucky, and Oregon. Washington’s hemp law is also confusing thanks to RCW 15.120.020 which prohibits the “production of any part of industrial hemp, except seed, as food, extract, oil, cake, concentrate, resin, or other preparation for topical use, oral consumption, or inhalation by humans[.]” This provision only refers to the production of hemp, not the sale of hemp products, including widely popular hemp-derived CBD (“Hemp-CBD”) products. However, it has also stunted the retail sale of hemp products intended for human consumption under the idea that if it’s illegal to produce hemp for human consumption it is also legal to sell hemp products for human consumption. This would no longer be an issue if SB 5719 passes. However, SB 5719 does come with some ambiguity.
Under, SB 5719 “CBD and CBD products derived from hemp are considered a food product that must be tested and treated in accordance with other agricultural crop derived food products for human and animal consumption.” This could lead to confusion. For example, a Hemp-CBD topical cream would still have to be “tested and treated” as food. That is inconsistent with FDA regulation which treats food and cosmetics differently. Additionally, what does it mean to “treat” something as food? I read it to refer to things like manufacturing, labeling, and storing Hemp-CBD, but I could be wrong.
Licensing and Seeds
The WSDA would issue hemp producer licenses. Current hemp licensees could transfer into Washington’s new program once it’s up and running. Hemp producers will only be allowed to use seeds listed in SB 5719 or approved by the WSDA. The bill also contains a clever provision that distinguishes seed varieties based on THC percentage. Certain seed “cultivar” (i.e., “a variation of the plant Cannabis sativa L. that has been developed through cultivation by selective breeding”) will be exempt from THC testing. WSDA will have the authority to approve seed cultivar and determine whether THC testing is required. Cultivar that were brought into Washington state before January 1, 2022 so long as “the state has planting, growth, and stability records covering at least three years.”
Even though seeds will be regulated fairly robustly, SB 5719 does not indicate the need for seed-to-sale traceability as the WSDA will not be responsible for determining whether a hemp product was derived from an approved hemp cultivar.
Though SB 5719 is a major overhaul, WSDA would still have authority over hemp in the Evergreen State. Both marijuana and hemp are ways to describe cannabis so it’s natural to wonder what is the LCB’s role in regulating hemp under SB 5719? SB 5719 specifically states that “all rules relating to hemp, including any testing of hemp, are outside the control of the [LCB].” However, the WSDA is mandated to consult with the LCB to establish rules and policies to prevent cross pollination between marijuana and hemp crops. In the event that a documented cross-pollination erupts between two farms growing hemp or marijuana, the farm operating first will be the victor. This first-in-time law would give marijuana farmers a massive upper-hand, at least initially, as Washington’s marijuana program is older and much larger than the hemp program. The WSDA and state lawmakers will undertake a task force for determining the need for crop insurance.
SB 5719, if passed in its current form, would drastically change Washington’s hemp laws. Like the 2018 Farm Bill, it’s a much more commercial friendly scheme. If you agree or disagree with the current version of SB 5719, you can submit comments here.
If SB 5719 becomes law, it will take effect immediately. Given that there are several time-sensitive provisions in the bill, it makes sense to start planning now. We’ll keep an eye on this and other hemp-bills in Washington and other states.