BOISE — A proposal to legalize the production and sale of hemp in Idaho received almost no negative testimony during a two-hour hearing before the House Agricultural Affairs Committee on Monday.
One person spoke against the measure, saying it could open the door to marijuana legalization. Another dozen people testified in support.
The bill’s co-sponsors — Reps. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, and Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley — said the legislation has nothing to do with legalizing drug use.
“Do your own research, but hemp and marijuana are not the same thing,” Moon told the committee.
Although both plants have a similar appearance and leaf structure, they contain vastly different levels of THC, the psychoactive component that makes people high.
By definition, hemp must contain less than 0.3 percent THC by weight. That compares with 20 percent of more for the most potent strains of marijuana.
“Hemp doesn’t get you high,” Troy said.
What their bill does is remove long-standing restrictions on the production, sale, transportation and processing of industrial hemp. The measure mirrors the 2018 Farm Bill, which eliminated federal restrictions on the plant.
Even if the bill is approved and signed into law, Troy said, several additional steps will be needed before anyone can legally grow hemp. First, the state has to develop a plan for regulating production, to make sure the plant doesn’t exceed the 0.3 percent THC limit. That plan must then be signed by the governor and the state’s chief law enforcement officer, after which it would go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for review and approval.
“So when this bill passes, don’t go out and plant hemp,” she said. “It won’t be legal until we hear back on all those other steps.”
Supporters who testified Monday included the Idaho Farm Bureau, Food Processors of Idaho, Idaho Freedom Foundation and Idaho Farmers for Health. Their basic point: The legislation would give Idaho farmers an opportunity to diversify their operations and tap into a potentially lucrative, growing market.
“Idaho is now just one of three states that have a blanket ban on hemp, so we’re at a disadvantage,” said Jonathan Parker with Idaho Farmers for Health. “We see this bill as another tool in the arsenal that allows Idaho farmers to compete with farmers in other states.”
Hari Heath, a self-employed salvage logger from Benewah County, said it’s time for Idaho to step out of the Prohibition era and stop lumping hemp in with marijuana.
“We have these three cousins who are all in jail together,” he said. “One cousin is marijuana, and I’m not trying to get it out of jail.”
The other “cousins” include industrial hemp, which is produced for fiber and seeds, and the hemp that’s used to make cannabidiol or CBD oil.
Greg Willison, who used to farm near New Plymouth, later moved to Oregon to help his son raise hemp for CBD. He said it can be tricky to grow, but right now it’s far more lucrative than standard commodities.
Because hemp has just been legalized nationally, “there are no approved chemicals for weeds or insect control,” Willison said. “We had plenty of both.”
They planted a total of 5 acres, he said. The overall yield was about 2,000 pounds of hemp flower per acre. It takes 40 pounds of flower to make one kilogram of CBD distillate, so they ended up with 50 kilos.
The company that extracted the oil took half that amount, Willison said. They sold the remainder for about $4,500 per kilo, grossing about $22,500 per acre. That’s about 10 times what a potato farmer might earn.
“The market is bound to go down,” he said. “But it can go a long ways and you’ll still make money.”
The Agricultural Affairs Committee didn’t immediately vote on the bill. However, 10 of its 15 members are listed as co-sponsors. Overall, the legislation has 33 co-sponsors in the House and another four in the Senate.