To the Governor: Washington Senate Passes Bill to Decriminalize Industrial Hemp

OLYMPIA, Wash. (April 21, 2017) – Last week, the Washington Senate unanimously passed a bill that would remove industrial hemp from the state’s “controlled substances” list. If signed by the governor, the law would set the stage for people in the Evergreen State to thwart federal prohibition of the plant in practice.

Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley), and a bipartisan coalition of three Republicans and three Democrats, introduced House Bill 2064 (HB2064) on Feb. 9. The legislation would simply remove industrial hemp from the state’s controlled substances act.

While marijuana is legal in Washington, it is still considered a controlled substance and heavily regulated. Passage of HB2064 would completely remove hemp from regulation as a controlled substance.This would open the door for a full-scale commercial hemp market in the state by treating it as any other crop for farming.

HB2064 would not require any license to grow hemp, and it would create no state regulatory structure. In short, the state would treat industrial hemp like other plants, such as tomatoes. By ending state prohibition, residents in Washington would have an open door to start industrial hemp farming, should they be willing to risk the slight possibility of federal enforcement action.

The Senate passed HB2064 by a 49-0 vote. The bill previously passed the House 98-0. It now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for his consideration.

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, or within state pilot programs, for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited.

OTHER STATES

By rejecting any need for federal approval, state decriminalization of hemp sets the stage to stop the federal hemp ban in practice. Washington could join other states – including Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, California and others – that have simply ignored federal prohibition and legalized 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, this law would clear away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming within the borders of the state. As more states simply ignore federal prohibition, the likelihood of federal enforcement diminishes.

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 2015, 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!”.

HB2064 would represent an essential first step toward hemp freedom in Washington.

WHAT’S NEXT

Gov. Inslee will have five days from the date of transmittal to sign or veto HB2064. If he fails to act, the bill will become law without his signature. If you live in Washington, contact the governor and urge him to sign HB2064 into law. You can find contact information HERE.