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Hemp legalization bill passes Idaho House despite law enforcement opposition

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BOISE — The Idaho House passed a hemp legalization bill on Monday, despite strong opposition from a number of Idaho’s law enforcement organizations.

The Idaho House of Representatives passed the Hemp Research and Development Act, with a 63-to-7 vote. The proposed legislation now goes to the Senate.

Supporters of the bill stressed it is not about legalizing marijuana, but rather bringing Idaho into alignment with the rest of the country.

“Hemp is an industrial use (product),” Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, told the House Agricultural Affairs Committee during an earlier discussion on the bill, according to the Idaho Statesman. “There were 162 tons of hemp product on the Mayflower when it made its way. You can make paper. You can make rope. There are 26,000-plus different uses for the hemp product.”

President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law Dec. 20, which includes a provision legalizing commercial hemp production at the federal level.

Although the majority of House legislators approved the bill, the proposed legislation was not supported by the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association. The group issued a statement opposing the bill, which multiple law enforcement organizations also signed.

The association asserts that since the bill includes no protections for law enforcement, it will effectively legalize marijuana in the state.

“There are no roadside tests available to law enforcement to test whether a plant is hemp or marijuana on the street. In many cases, law enforcement cannot visually tell the difference,” the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association said in its letter to the Legislature.

The letter says the only way for law enforcement to quickly determine if the plant is hemp or marijuana is through a quantitative THC test. According to the letter, officers do not have the ability to conduct that kind of test.

“Idaho’s prosecutors and law enforcement understand the motivation to provide an alternative crop for Idaho’s farmers and are willing to work with the agricultural community,” the letter says. “It has never been our intent to prevent a pathway forward, but just like all the other states that have developed successful hemp programs, Idaho’s law must provide the statutory guidance to protect the safety of the community, the grower and law enforcement’s ability to enforce the controlled substance laws of the state.”

Legislators are looking into getting testing equipment to tell the difference between marijuana and hemp. Earlier this month, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee earmarked about $240,000 for three testing devices, which would be placed at crime labs in Meridian, Pocatello and Coeur d’Alene, according to the Idaho Statesman.

But the testing equipment is not part of the bill.

“All of these issues, and many more, could be resolved if a consensus bill were to be considered. Unfortunately, Idaho’s law enforcement community has been shut out of the conversation,” the letter states.

The federal legalization of hemp is a key argument in Big Sky Scientific LLC’s lawsuit against the Idaho State Police, Ada County and attorney Jan M. Bennetts for the seizure of 6,701 pounds of hemp and the arrest of truck driver Denis V. Palamarchuck in January.

The substance ISP seized in January, which ISP claimed was 6,701 pounds of pot, and Big Sky Scientific says is actually hemp. | Courtesy Idaho State Police

Big Sky Scientific, a CBD wholesale provider based out of Colorado, claims the product seized during an inspection was industrial hemp, per the definition outlined in the 2018 farm bill, and therefore was a protected substance, should not have been seized in the first place and should be returned.

Idaho State Police have not released details about whether the seized cannabis was hemp or marijuana.

If the Hemp Research and Development Act is passed, it will align Idaho law with the 2018 farm bill. The bill defines hemp as Cannabis Sativa L. containing 0.3 percent of THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. If the plant contains more than 0.3 percent THC, it would be considered marijuana and illegal.

According to the Idaho Statesman, since Idaho’s bill was introduced Feb. 8, Wyoming and New Mexico have legalized hemp, leaving Idaho the only state in the West where it is illegal.

Read the full letter from the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association here.

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