Industrial hemp production gets boost under Ericksen bill

  • Once-forbidden crop presents new opportunity for Washington farmers
  • Establishes agricultural commodity program to regulate hemp production
  • Federal law requires state regulation before growing can commence

OLYMPIA – The Washington Legislature has given final approval to a bill that would permit large-scale industrial hemp production, turning a once-forbidden crop into a moneymaker for Washington farmers.

Senate Bill 5276, sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, creates an agricultural commodity program under the state Department of Agriculture to regulate the production of hemp. Under federal law, state regulation is required before hemp can be grown.

“Industrial hemp production offers a tremendous opportunity for Washington agriculture,” Ericksen said. “This crop has dozens of uses, from textiles and rope to pharmaceuticals and biodegradable plastic. Washington is one of several states in a position to take advantage of recent changes to federal law, and we need to make sure we are not left behind.”

Hemp, once a major U.S. crop, was banished from American farmland after Congress declared marijuana a controlled substance. Hemp is a strain of the cannabis sativa plant species with minimal THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana. Hemp has been cultivated worldwide for at least 10,000 years, its fibers making it especially suitable for the production of rope.

Last year Congress removed hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act, prompted by the legalization of marijuana in Washington and other states. Farmers are permitted to grow hemp once state regulatory procedures are established.

Under Ericksen’s bill, the state would issue licenses to hemp growers, and devise an inspection and testing program. THC content would be limited to no more than 0.3 percent by weight. Cost of the program would be borne by growers, as is done with other agricultural commodities. Washington State University would provide research assistance, providing growers with information about growing seasons and best practices.

The bill passed the Senate March 12 by a vote of 49-0, and the House followed suit Tuesday 89-7. The Senate concurred with House amendments Wednesday and sent the bill to the governor.