Washington Budget-Writers Smile On Hemp

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Washington lawmakers appear willing to throw a lifeline to the state Department of Agriculture’s hemp program.

House and Senate budget proposals released this week allocated funds to resume issuing and renewing licenses to grow and process hemp. WSDA suspended processing applications late last year because it ran out of money.

“Everybody is very positive this is going to go through,” said Bonnie Jo Peterson of the Industrial Hemp Association of Washington.

Washington is one of about three dozen states that allow growing hemp under state supervision. Cultivating or processing hemp outside such a program violates federal law.

WSDA has issued only seven hemp licenses since the program began last May. License and inspection fees are far short of supporting the fledgling program. WSDA requested $287,000 to sustain the program to the end of the current two-year budget cycle, June 30, 2019. Without the money, the department says it will shelve the program.

Gov. Jay Inslee did not fund hemp in his budget proposal, but the House budget included the full amount sought by WSDA. The Senate budget set aside $100,000, a figure that could be negotiated upward.

Peterson said she was optimistic the higher figure will be in the budget that lawmakers send to the governor. The regular session ends March 8.

For now, WSDA is compiling applications, but not collecting fees. The applications will be processed in the order they’re received, according to the department.

“If people are in a hurry to grow hemp in the spring, they need to get their applications in right away,” Peterson said.

Some 180 acres of hemp were grown last year. Peterson said she did not expect a big increase this year if the program resumes. The program’s winter shutdown chilled prospective hemp growers, she said. “I don’t see a big increase in applications until November.”

Farmers who want to grow hemp must submit a nonrefundable $450 application fee. A license costs $300, plus $200 for each additional field. WSDA tests plants for THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. Testing fees range from $200 to $2,000, depending on the number of samples, according to WSDA. Plants that test too high in THC must be destroyed.

Marijuana growers operate under a separate set of regulations and are licensed by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Washington law bars hemp processors from manufacturing cannabinoid, commonly known as CBD, an oil marketed as a dietary supplement. Although widely available, CBD is illegal, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration.

A WSDA study, ordered by lawmakers last year, reports that allowing hemp to be processed into CBD could increase the number of hemp farmers. The move, however, would risk the state losing permission from the DEA to import viable hemp seeds, according to the report.