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Hemp legalization to help crop diversity in rural communities, bring in additional revenue

Treasure Valley CBD retailers say they don’t expect to be immediately impacted by the new Idaho law, but there may be benefits in the near future.

BOISE, Idaho — Gov. Brad Little on Friday signed a bill to legalize industrial hemp, ending Idaho’s distinction as the last state to legalize the non-intoxicating crop for cultivation by farmers. The bill also allows for transportation and processing of the plant.

The bill, HB 126, amends Idaho’s list of controlled substances to differentiate between hemp and marijuana. Hemp has no more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

The legislation authorizes the production, research, processing and transportation of industrial hemp by those licensed in Idaho, and allows the legal possession and transportation of the product, while removing hemp from Idaho’s list of Schedule I drugs, for those purposes.

“Gov. Little signed the bill as he was convinced the bill does not compromise the state’s ability to enforce our drug laws and it allows farmers in Idaho to grow a commodity permitted under federal law,” Little’s press secretary Marissa Morrison Hyer said in an email Monday.

The bill does not legalize hemp products sold to consumers, including CBD oil, that contain any amount of THC.

The Idaho Farm Bureau proposed the bill. It passed the House 44-26 in March and the Senate 30-5 earlier this month.

“House Bill 126 is a farming, processing, trucking and research bill,” said Idaho Farm Bureau lobbyist Braden Jensen during a March hearing. “House Bill 126 is not a CBD, THC or medical marijuana bill.”

The bill includes an emergency clause making it effective immediately upon signing, but Idaho Farm Bureau representatives said the process of setting up the new regulation system for industrial hemp would take long enough that the first hemp growing season in Idaho likely wouldn’t start until 2022.

Prior to HB 126, Idaho law made no distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana. As a result, the state arrested several truck drivers hauling loads of industrial hemp through Idaho and threatened them with drug trafficking charges that carry mandatory minimum prison terms.

Public testimony at the Statehouse in recent months was mostly favorable of the bill.

Tim Cornie, an organic farmer in Buhl, told the Idaho Press on Monday he’s excited about the legalization. He said it will especially help diversify the crops grown in rural communities in Idaho.

“The grain is nutritious and it gives farmers another rotational crop to add to the docket,” Cornie said.

He estimated hemp could bring in $500 to $600 an acre for farmers that grow it, though he said with such a new crop it’s hard to estimate what the yield will be. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates in 2020 that potato crops brought in around $3,300 per acre, while wheat and barley brought in around $400-$500 per acre in Idaho.

Cornie is an organic processor and farmer with 1000 Springs Mill. He said the company would be interested in processing hemp hearts and other hemp products at the facility once the Idaho Farm Bureau sets regulations.

“As a farmer, I am really excited for it because we need that rotation and diversification,” he said. “It is like if an investment company only has a few stocks, that isn’t going to be sustainable. When we have crop diversity, it helps us be successful and sustainable.”

Cornie’s only criticism is that the legislation took too long to become law. According to the Idaho Statesman, Cornie testified in a 2020 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on a previous industrial hemp bill.

“Idaho farmers are losing that opportunity to make some money,” he testified at the time.

Cornie said he sees farmers jumping on the opportunity to grow hemp. Though he estimates there will be a learning curve to growing it, he guessed farmers would start planting and harvesting as soon as possible.

Among those who testified at the Statehouse on HB 126 was Mattie Mead, founder and CEO of Hempitecture, a Ketchum-based company that specializes in hemp building materials. Hempitecture currently imports hemp wool from a manufacturer in Canada, which means money is being spent out of the state and country when it could stay in Idaho, Mead told lawmakers last month.

“The reason I’m supporting this bill is because my company is in the process of establishing a hemp wool facility here in southern Idaho, where we’ve received county approval,” he said.

Prior to HB 126, it was legal to sell hemp-derived products in Idaho, as long as they contained no amount of THC. Shops selling CBD, or cannabidiol — an extract from hemp that’s used to treat various ailments, such as pain, anxiety and movement disorders — opened across the state after the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp at the federal level.

Treasure Valley CBD retailers say they don’t expect to be immediately impacted by the new Idaho law, but there may be benefits in the near future. Holly Pearl, who co-owns CBD Kave, an online retailer based in Kuna, with her husband, Nic Pearl, said she hopes to someday buy her products from local growers and processors.

“I think it would be great to have some truly local products coming out of Idaho,” she said. “It is a great climate here for it. I can even see companies coming from other states to capitalize on the opportunity to grow here.”

But retailers would have preferred to see HB 126 go further, to allow products with up to 0.3% THC be commercially sold.

“The end goal, yes, that would be something that we want to do,” said Alicia Miller, who co-owns The Honey Pot CBD in Boise with her husband, Jason Miller. “We truly believe in the plant as a whole and its healing purposes.”

Idaho Press reporter Betsy Z. Russell contributed.