The debate over what the state’s recreational marijuana market should look like has captured the attention of policy makers, lawmakers and cannabis consumers alike, but a smaller and passionate group of activists have big plans for industrial hemp in Oregon as well.
Those plans are set to move ahead now that the Oregon Department of Agriculture has drafted rules governing hemp cultivation. About two dozen hemp and marijuana legalization advocates attended Tuesday’s hearing on the rules, which the agency hopes to put in place by Feb. 2.
Agriculture officials hope to begin issuing licenses to hemp producers in time for a spring planting. The rules are based on a 2009 state law that legalized hemp production; officials held off on implementing the law due to the federal prohibition on marijuana, a relative of industrial hemp.
But in late 2013, after the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would take a largely hands-off approach to legal marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington, Oregon agriculture officials began meeting to design the state’s industrial hemp program.
Hemp advocates, including prospective growers of the crop, said the state’s rules are outdated and won’t help Oregon hemp producers compete with China and Canada, major producers of the crop. They argue, for instance, that the THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, limits for certified industrial hemp is too low and weakens the plants fibers, which are commonly used in textiles.
Besides, they argue, given marijuana’s new legal status in Oregon, capping THC is obsolete.
“It makes no sense anymore,” said David Seber, who owns Hemp Shield, a Eugene company that produces a hemp-based deck sealant and wood finisher. “You can’t characterize industrial hemp by the THC profile. It can only be characterized by what it’s used for.”
Seber also said Oregon’s law needs to allow hemp growers to produce seeds for oil; currently the law allows seeds to be used only for planting. Seber relies on Canadian hemp seed oil for his product.
Doug Fine, a national industrial hemp advocate who lives in New Mexico, said the rules are rooted in an era when hemp and marijuana were outlawed.
“The overall tone of the fear of the cannabis plant has to be replaced by acknowledgement of the fact that hemp is a major industrial product that is good for Oregon,” said Fine, who pointed out that the shirt he wore to the hearing was made from hemp.
Despite their concerns about the rules, advocates said they want the state to move ahead with plans for issuing licenses this spring.
Tim Pate, who served on the rules advisory committee, said the rules are imperfect but enough to get the program off the ground.
“Obviously this is our first attempt to get this job done,” said Pate. “That’s how I look at it.”
— Noelle Crombie