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Idaho farmers warn they’re losing money without state legalizing hemp production, sales


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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — During the first hearing on a bill that would legalize the production and sale of industrial hemp in Idaho, farmers warned Idaho legislators what was at stake while they delay legalization.

“Idaho farmers are losing that opportunity to make some money,” Tim Cornie, an organic farmer in Buhl, told the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday. “We don’t want to delay and split hairs. We need to move forward.”

Idaho is one of only three states that does not allow the cultivation of hemp, despite the federal government making it legal to grow industrial hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill. The discrepancy has created complications for Idaho law enforcement and state officials, ensnaring interstate truckers transporting the product through Idaho and sending Treasure Valley farmers across the border to Oregon to grow the crop.

The bill — introduced this week and sponsored by Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland and Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee —would allow Idaho farmers to grow and sell hemp products containing 0.3% or less of THC, the cannabis compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Under the measure, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture would set up a state program for hemp that would include stipulations for permitting, testing and transportation. Although the bill would differentiate hemp from marijuana in Idaho’s state code for the first time, it would not remove hemp from the state’s list of controlled substances.

“We’re saying, hemp is legal in our state only under certain circumstances,” Lee told the committee.

Notably, Idaho law enforcement could still be involved in the regulation of hemp, especially when it comes to transportation. Last year, Idaho officers arrested a truck driver transporting 7,000 pounds of industrial hemp, which officers believed was marijuana. Under this bill, officers could still test and seize hemp transports suspected of having illegal levels of THC, but people possessing or transporting of hemp without a permit would face fines instead of jail time.

Committee members voted Thursday to send the bill to the Senate with a do-pass recommendation. Only Sen. Regina Bayer, R-Meridian, was the only vote in opposition.

Strong support from Idaho’ ag community for hemp legalization

The bill received strong support from the agriculture community during the hearing Thursday. The Idaho Farm Bureau, like others who testified, said although the bill didn’t cover every issue it wanted, it was a good start.

“There is no perfect legislation,” said Doug Jones, who said he was a “semi-retired” farmer in the Magic Valley. “You’ve got to take the first step. Put this base legislation in place.”

On Wednesday, Idaho Gov. Brad Little also told reporters he supports the legalization of industrial hemp.

“I’m fine with hemp so long as it’s not camouflaged for marijuana,” Little said at the Idaho Press Club’s legislative breakfast meeting Wednesday. “I come from an agricultural background — although I’ve never grown hemp.”

The Idaho Freedom Foundation was the only group to speak in opposition of the bill. No Idaho law enforcement agencies spoke in opposition, although Lee told the Statesman after the hearing that she and Troy worked with law enforcement and prosecutors this year.

Before the committee voted, Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said criticism calling the bill overly “law enforcement controlled” was strange.

“If we don’t want police powers, I guess we just legalize marijuana,” Patrick said.

“Well,” replied committee chairman Sen. Jim Guthrie, “there is that.”