The passage of the federal farm bill on Tuesday may open the door for production of industrial hemp in Washington.
Washington State University, as well as state agriculture officials, is supporting legislation in Olympia that would allow the production of industrial hemp, as well as research into the crop.
“WSU is eager to help the state better understand the viability and opportunity associated with the production of industrial hemp in Washington,” Chris Mulick, the university’s director of state relations, told a state Senate committee last week.
The bills would allow WSU to lead research efforts into the crop through both public and private funding, in cooperation with the state Department of Agriculture.
Similar bills were under consideration last year, but changes at the federal level may affect how state legislators respond to the issue this session. The federal government does not allow the cultivation of industrial hemp, but a provision in the farm bill currently going through Congress could change that.
Mulick said WSU will monitor the farm bill’s progress.
He also said the university must “remain in alignment with the federal government as we rely on the federal government for substantial research and financial aid funds. That simply cannot be jeopardized.”
Colorado and several other states have legalized industrial hemp, but remain wary of federal laws that ban it. Internationally, several countries – including Canada – allow cultivation of hemp.
Hemp and marijuana come from the same plant, but hemp typically has lower levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, a hallucinogenic chemical. Hemp is used in products including clothing, rope and biofuels.
The proposals moving through the state Senate would require testing to verify minimal THC levels.
At WSU, Mulick said he had no knowledge of any researchers looking into hemp. In an interview Monday, Mulick said WSU is unsure when research might begin, if approved. The university must seek its own funding, and the timing for that is unclear, he said.
State farmers must also find the crop economically viable, he added.
“One thing that’s important to remember with any crop, as you all well know, it’s not enough for any one crop to pencil out,” Mulick said. “It needs to pencil out better than any alternative crop that a grower could plant.”
Two proposals, Senate bills 5954 and 6214, would allow WSU to research industrial hemp production in the state.
Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, and a sponsor of the bills, said industrial hemp is used in more than 25,000 products.
“The United States is the only industrialized nation that bars hemp cultivation,” he said.
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