Tuesday, April 30, 2019

New hemp law ushers in next era for industry

Kathy Davis

Action by the Washington Legislature this session is aimed at breathing new life into our state’s industrial hemp industry. 

As authorized by legislation signed on April 26, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) will replace the industrial hemp research pilot begun in 2016 with a new commercial hemp licensing and regulatory program. 

Given hemp’s many potential uses, agricultural producers here have been seeking to expand production to compete with the many other U.S. states and countries around the world that legally grow and process hemp. 

The bill passed by the Legislature, E2SSB 5276, allows growing and processing hemp as a legal, agricultural product. The legislation requires that Washington’s program align with changes made in the 2018 federal farm bill, which removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. 

WSDA will continue the industrial hemp research pilot under the current rules, with three significant changes that take effect immediately under the new state bill:
  • Eliminates requirement for a four-mile buffer zone between licensed hemp producers and licensed marijuana producers.  
  • Allows licensed growers to acquire hemp seed directly, including from other states, without needing to use a Drug Enforcement Agency permit from WSDA. 
  • Allows extraction of CBD (cannabinoid) from hemp for use in products such as oils, lotions, and tinctures. However, the federal Food and Drug Administration continues to prohibit adding CBD to food or beverages. 
WSDA will submit Washington’s state hemp plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as required by the farm bill, once USDA has issued its guidance. WSDA will also begin drafting rules for the new program. 

Under that rule making, WSDA will establish a process to license hemp growers and set licensing fees that will sustain the program, as well as procedures to test hemp for THC levels (must be under 0.3 percent), conduct inspections, and enforce on violations. 

Currently licensed hemp growers and processors will now operate under the provisions of the new law. And WSDA has now begun processing license applications that the agency had put on hold. The licensing fee structure has not changed, but it will likely be addressed in upcoming rule making. 

The Legislature also provided a one-time appropriation of $212,000 to maintain current hemp program operations and transition to a new commercial hemp program. 

Hemp is an agricultural product with many uses. It is used as a source of fiber in textiles, rope, paper, and building materials. Hemp seed is also used for food, feed, and oil. The oil may be used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, inks, household detergents, and paints. The plants are also a source of livestock feed and bedding.

Email hemp@agr.wa.gov if you have questions or need more information.