Bill to Legalize Hemp Farming Passes Washington House Committee Unanimously

By a unanimous 9-0 vote on Monday, a Washington state House committee approved a bill that would authorize the farming, production, and sale of industrial hemp in the state, effectively blocking the federal prohibition on the same.

Introduced by State Sens. Brian Hatfield (D-Raymond) and Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), Senate Bill 5012 (SB5012) would open up the industrial hemp market in Washington state if successfully passed, something the federal government prohibits even though they’ve made a tactical retreat to withdraw some enforcement efforts in the face of massive state resistance.

The bill reads, in part:

"Industrial hemp is an agricultural product that may be legally grown, produced, possessed, processed, and commercially traded."

SB5012 previously passed the state Senate by a 47-0 vote, and the unanimous vote in the House Commerce and Gaming committee moves it another step closer to the Governor’s desk. But the effort hasn’t avoided significant roadblocks.

A similar bill, HB1552 from Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley), also passed the committee, but a number of members wanted to ensure that it had a strong regulatory regime from the state. Once it moved to the next committee, Appropriations, the bill was blocked from getting any further votes because the regulations demanded by some of the more government-centric legislators resulted in a large “fiscal note,” estimating the state could lose up to $700,000 a year just administering the programs.

While SB5012 was amended in the Commerce and Gaming committee yesterday to include licensing requirements for farmers, and other moderate regulations, Rep. Christopher Hurst (D-Enumclaw) raised a serious concern about haggling over even more regulations, and called on committee members to move the bill forward without trying to control too much of the market.

“As we go down this path, we’re starting to already try to overregulate and overthink something that doesn’t even exist,” said Hurst.  “It’s time to get going, we can start worrying about more of the specific details next year once we actually have an industry going. If we add another fiscal note on top of this bill with a whole bunch of new ideas and a whole bunch of FTEs on a product that’s not even being grown today, we’re never going to get it done.”

Rep. Cary Condotta (R-East Wenatchee), co-sponsor of the held-up HB1552, agreed. He pointed out to the committee that they have been working on getting a hemp farming bill passed for two years, and now is the time to move it forward before Washington State fell too far behind hemp markets in other states.

Passage of SB5012 into law will ensure that Washington will join at least five other states – Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vermont – that have already passed similar measures. The New Hampshire House passed a hemp farming bill last month and another that passed the North Dakota legislature this year awaits a signature from Gov. Dalrymple.

Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively thwarting federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group who hopes to plant 25 acres this spring. The Tennessee Agricultural department recently put out a call for licensing, signaling that hemp farming will start soon there too. And a law passed in South Carolina in 2014 authorizes the same.

Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $500 million per year. They count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s #1 importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.

“We have 9000 products we’re importing into the state of Washington today and they could be manufactured by Washington farmers,” said Hurst.

During World War II, the United States military relied heavily on hemp products, which resulted in the famous campaign and government-produced film, “Hemp for Victory!”.

But, since the enactment of the deplorable federal controlled-substances act in 1970, the Drug Enforcement Agency has prevented the production of hemp within the United States. Many hemp supporters feel that the DEA has been used as an “attack dog” of sorts to prevent competition with major industries where American-grown hemp products would create serious market competition: Cotton, Paper/Lumber, Oil, and others.

Early in 2014, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The new “hemp amendment”

"…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law."

SB5012 goes further than what is currently authorized by the federal government, and legalizes the crop for industrial production – whether the feds like it or not.

The bill was assigned to the House Appropriations committee. It will now need to pass that through that committee successfully before moving to the state House for further consideration and vote.

ACTION ITEMS

For Washington: Take action to support this bill HERE.

For other states: Call your state legislators and politely urge them to introduce a bill similar to SB5012 such as our Hemp Freedom Act.