By Becky Kramer, Spokesman Review
Idaho lawmakers didn’t take to the idea of industrial hemp as an alternative crop this session.
A proposed $50,000 study of industrial hemp cultivation was shot down in committee last month.
But Rep. Tom Trail, a former extension agent who sponsored the legislation, is undeterred. He’s already working on bills for next year.
“The education process takes a long time,” said the Moscow Republican. “Industrial hemp has been demonized in this country since 1937.”
Hemp backers are trying to gain support from legislatures around the country. When the federal government recently agreed to issue a permit for a 10-acre test plot in Hawaii, Trail and others took heart.
“It’s a crop that has tremendous potential for Idaho, though it will never replace wheat or potatoes,” said Mike Schlepp, a Rose Lake farmer.
Canadian farmers are netting $250 an acre from growing industrial hemp seed, which is sold for its oil, Trail said. Other varieties are grown for fiber used in paper, cloth and particle board.
Lynne Hutton sells imported hemp products in her Gateway Gardens stores in the Silverlake and Spokane Valley malls, including a hemp-blend of coffee and hemp seed energy bars.
“It’s high in vitamin B and protein,” she said.
Trail characterizes his legislation as a “jump-start” measure.
In addition to the study, it authorizes the state Department of Agriculture to develop rules for growing industrial hemp in Idaho. The state’s farmers would be ready to plant as soon as the federal government lifts the prohibition on growing hemp, Trail said.
Growing industrial hemp has been outlawed in the U.S. since the 1930s. Though the plant is in the same family as marijuana, industrial hemp contains 1 percent or less of the mind-altering compound tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Marijuana’s THC levels are in the 3 to 7 percent range.
“Smoking industrial hemp is like smoking rope,” Trail said. “Only in the U.S. does the government lump the two together.”
In Idaho, opposition to Trail’s bill came from Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and law enforcement officials.
Trail said concerns about growers using industrial hemp to mask marijuana operations are overrated.
“You’d have to be a dumb drug dealer to plant industrial hemp in a field of marijuana,” he said. The plants would cross pollinate, lowering the marijuana’s THC levels.
Canada reauthorized industrial hemp cultivation three years ago. Growers must apply for permits, and their fields are subject to site inspections and satellite tracking. Plant tissues are sampled for THC levels before harvest.
“If the Canadian Mounted Police can tell the difference, it is my hope that with minimum education our police could too,” Schlepp said.
Schlepp has been instrumental in gaining the Idaho Farm Bureau’s support for industrial hemp.
The crop could be another option for farmers looking to diversify their holdings, said Schlepp, who touts hemp’s environmental as well as economic benefits.
Hemp grows in marginal soil, and requires no pesticides. The Idaho Potato Commission is interested in hemp’s ability to pull nitrates from the soil.
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