SALEM, Ore. (Feb. 1, 2017) – A bill introduced in the Oregon House would establish a hemp seed certification program, an important step paving the way for faster development of Oregon’s hemp market, and further thwarting federal prohibition in effect.
Rep. Carl Wilson (R-Grants Pass) introduced House Bill 2371 (HB2371) on Jan. 9. The legislation would define industrial hemp seed as a flower seed for the purpose of certification and regulation. In other words, hemp seed would be treated just like seed for roses or carnations. The bill would also direct the director of College of Agriculture and dean of College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University to establish program for labeling and certification of agricultural hemp seed.
Seed certification is vital to growing a vibrant hemp industry. A shortage of usable certified seed throws up one of the biggest barriers to hemp research and farming. Few domestic seed sources exist, and the federal government strictly regulates importation and transportation of hemp seeds. By creating a program to encourage the development of certified seed in the state, it will open the door to vastly expand the already growing hemp market.
The Oregon legislature initially legalized industrial hemp production in 2009. When the Oregon Department of Agriculture finally put its licensing and regulatory program in place early in 2014, some farmers began growing hemp, despite high barriers to entry. Legislation passed in 2016 relaxed licensing requirements to encourage further development of a hemp market within the state. The new law already shows signs of delivering on promises to further open up hemp production and processing in the state. Developing a certified seed program would expand things even further.
The federal government still prohibits the cultivation of industrial hemp in most cases, and it prohibits the commercial cultivation of hemp in all cases. Despite federal prohibition, Oregon’s current law sets the foundation for people to block the ban by encouraging hemp production in the state. By relaxing regulations and facilitating further development of the hemp industry with this new law, Oregon will ultimately expand this “illegal” market.
The evolution of the hemp program in Oregon also demonstrates a practical reality. Tenth Amendment Center executive director Michael Boldin pointed out when states pass bills that remove a layer of law, markets will inevitably begin to develop.
“As those markets take root, legislators start feeling the pressure to relax laws further,” he said. “Some critics complain that state licensing programs ‘restrict freedom.’ Still, state-restricted hemp farming is better than no hemp farming at all. That’s at least a little more freedom. And as we’re seeing in Oregon, it ultimately opens the door to even freer markets down the road. A little freedom begets more freedom.”
FEDERAL FARM BILL
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 “hemp amendment”
…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oil-seed 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.
In short, current federal law authorizes the farming of hemp – by research institutions only, for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited. Oregon law ignores federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.
Oregon joins with a number of other states – including Colorado, South Carolina, Connecticut, Maine, North Dakota, Rhode Island, California, Massachusetts and Vermont – simply ignoring federal prohibition and legalizing industrial hemp production within their state borders.
While prospective hemp growers still have to take federal law into consideration, by eliminating the state requirement for federal permission, state hemp legalization clears away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming within the borders of the state.
Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively blocking federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2 of last year, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group. As more people engage in hemp production and the market grows within these states, more people will become emboldened creating an exponential wave, ultimately thwarting the federal ban in effect.
HUGE MARKET FOR HEMP
According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. is the only developed nation that hasn’t developed an industrial hemp crop for economic purposes.
Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $600 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.
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!”.
HB2371 would represent another important toward hemp freedom in Oregon.