WA Hemp History & Update

February 2, 2019  /  by Kris Plunkett

In 2014 the WA State Legislature passed Senate bill 6206, which became RCW 15.120 and established the state’s industrial hemp research pilot program under the authority of the 2014 Federal Farm Bill. Under this pilot program, which is overseen by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), state citizens as well as institutions of higher learning have the opportunity to grow hemp for grain and fiber. Thanks to farmers in eastern WA, approximately 175 acres of hemp was planted for grain (seed for food) in 2017. In 2018 the Colville tribes grew 142 acres also for grain, which was processed by the PNW’s first hemp grain processor, HempNorthwest. The primary complaint regarding the current WA hemp program is that it forbids growing hemp for cannabidiol (CBD), which locks WA farmers out of the most lucrative market in hemp right now.

The 2019 WA legislative session began in January, and there are currently companion bills in both chambers, currently in committee, that would revamp the WA hemp program: SB 5719 and HB 1401. These mirrored bills are good for hemp in WA for several reasons:

  • They allow for hemp-derived CBD production and even go as far as designating CBD as a food product, which brings the compound under the umbrella of well-established food safety and handling regulations.
  • The 4-mile buffer zone between hemp and marijuana has been eliminated, and the WSDA must determine a cross-pollination policy with input from the WA LCB (adult-use cannabis).
  • Farmers licensed under the current WA Industrial Hemp Pilot Program would automatically become licensed under the new program.
  • They call for a legislative task force to be formed for the purpose of investigating crop insurance for WA hemp farmer.

I along with James McKee with Hemp Solutions Washington and Tonia Farman of HempNorthwest (pictured above right to left) attended the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks public hearing for SB 5719 on 1/29/2019. I spoke on behalf of the Pacific Northwest Hemp Industries Association (PNW HIA), for the most part applauding the bill but also stressing that either the buffer zone between hemp and marijuana should be eliminated or at least that hemp grown for CBD, which is grown unpollinated like marijuana, should also be considered  an unpollinated crop in terms of the buffer zones.

Bonny Jo Peterson with the Industrial Hemp Association of Washington helped draft the bills as a volunteer lobbyist working on behalf of WA farmers and processors who would like to work with hemp and was also present at the public hearing to testify on behalf of her organization. Everyone who testified approved of the bill. Things are looking bright for hemp in WA.

This Capital Press article does a great job summarizing the current situation with hemp in WA.