Washington’s fledgling industrial hemp industry just got a boost after Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law on Friday instituting a new, possibly easier to work under, industrial hemp growing program. Growing the non-psychoactive version of cannabis was already legal under a small, pilot program, but Inslee’s action, which now declares hemp is “a legal, agricultural activity in the state” is likely to spur more investment in the crop.
Industrial hemp can be used for an incredibly wide variety of products—from producing back-ache-ending CBD to nutritious food to building materials—and the multi-billion-dollar American market for the crop is estimated to more than double in the next ten years.
Inslee’s signature on this state law comes after Congress removed industrial hemp from the Controlled Substance Act (CSA). Industrial hemp, which is defined as any varietal of the cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3 percent THC, was formerly considered a Schedule I substance under the CSA, making it one of the most illegal substances in America. Congress removed industrial hemp from the CSA in December when they passed the 2018 Farm Bill.
Congress’s action in December made hemp legal across the country with one caveat—each state needed to create its own regulatory framework to monitor the production of hemp. The law Inslee signed on Friday complies with this requirement, allowing Washington’s farmers to grow hemp immediately. Jim Jessernig, an attorney and lobbyist that represents multiple agricultural clients in Washington, told a House committee earlier this month that the Legislature needed to quickly pass the law if they wanted to allow farmers to grow the crop this season. He estimated the Pacific Northwest could grow “tens of millions of dollars if not hundreds of millions of dollars” worth of hemp.
“Farmers across the Pacific Northwest are making final planting decisions right now,” Jessernig said. “And the question before the Legislature is whether or not you want Washington to be a part of that.”
The Washington Department of Agriculture (WSDA) issued hemp growing permits under a pilot program in 2017, but some prospective pot farmers complained that the pilot program had too burdensome of regulations to make growing the crop feasible. The crop was also only narrowly legal under federal law and was required to be grown for research purposes only. This new law makes it legal to grow hemp for commercial purposes and with far fewer regulations. Here’s how the Brookings Institute summarized the change:
The 2018 Farm Bill is more expansive. It allows hemp cultivation broadly, not simply pilot programs for studying market interest in hemp-derived products. It explicitly allows the transfer of hemp-derived products across state lines for commercial or other purposes. It also puts no restrictions on the sale, transport, or possession of hemp-derived products, so long as those items are produced in a manner consistent with the law.
Washington has yet to write the specific rules for our new state regulations, but the law goes into effect immediately, allowing any farmers that were permitted under the WSDA’s pilot program to continue growing hemp. The new law instructs the WSDA to immediately begin writing the rules for the new program.