Hemp bills would move crop into mainstream
SALEM — Hemp would be brought further into the mainstream of Oregon agriculture under two bills that create a commodity commission and seed certification process for the crop.
"Industrial hemp has a huge potential in Oregon, we just need a few tweaks to help move it forward," said Matt Cyrus, who grows hemp in Deschutes County, during a March 28 legislative hearing.
Under House Bill 2372, Oregon's hemp industry would join 23 other crop, livestock and seafood sectors to have a state commission aimed at promoting and researching a commodity through fees raised from producers.
Breeders of new hemp varieties could also get the purity of their seeds certified under House Bill 2371, similarly to other crop species, through a system overseen by Oregon State University.
"It's truly about a certified seed, one we know Oregon can count on," said Jerry Norton, a hemp grower.
To comply with federal provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill that allow hemp research, HB 2371 would also create a hemp pilot program at OSU, among other changes to Oregon hemp statutes.
Commercial hemp production is illegal under federal drug laws that lump hemp, a form of cannabis, in the same category as its psychoactive cousin, marijuana.
Aligning Oregon's hemp laws with the 2014 Farm Bill provisions will likely ease financial transactions for hemp growers, since many banks are otherwise leery of dealing with the crop, Cyrus said.
"The banks are looking for specific language in statute," he said.
If there's ever a change in federal law regarding cannabis, Oregon's seed certification process would let hemp breeders patent their varieties, said Jay Noller, head of OSU's crop and soil science department.
Because cannabis is illegal under federal law hemp varieties can't be protected, he said.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has authorized Noller to import high-quality hemp seeds from Canada and elsewhere.
At this point, though, foreign companies are reluctant to export hemp seed into Oregon due to a provision in state law allowing growers to save and plant it, he said.
Under HB 2371, that provision would be struck from Oregon law, hopefully opening the way for new hemp genetics to enter the state, Noller said.
Oregon's hemp statutes are already setting an example for other states and the proposed changes will let growers "get off the airstrip and into the air," said Norton.
"We feel that hemp in Oregon is going to be the new crop of the decade, if not the century," he said.