August 11, 2015 / 4:27 AM / 4 years ago

Federal lawmakers urge Oregon to speed up industrial hemp program

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers from Oregon urged state agricultural officials on Monday to advance a pilot project that would allow farmers to begin planting industrial hemp crops in time for next year’s growing season.

The lawmakers said in a letter the program missed this year’s growing season because of concerns in the state legislature over how hemp would coexist with the marijuana industry, which became legal for adult recreational use July 1.

Would-be growers of industrial hemp face a host of complications, including cannabis being illegal at the federal level even as prosecutors have cautiously allowed state experiments to go forward.

Lawmakers said in the letter, sent to Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba and Oregon State University Director of the College of Agricultural Sciences Daniel Arp, that provisions in last year’s Farm Bill allow for states and universities to conduct research on potential benefits of growing hemp for commercial use. 

“The potential for industrial hemp production represents a great opportunity for Oregon agriculture,” the lawmakers wrote.

Oregon has issued 13 licenses to farmers since adopting rules to implement the hemp program in January, but not all of the farmers have planted yet, Department of Agriculture spokesman Bruce Pokarney said.

The agency was reviewing the letter, he said.  

“I don’t think there’s any indication that we’re not moving forward,” Pokarney said. Arp could not be reached immediately for comment.

State officials are in the process of visiting farms to make sure they are in compliance with hemp growing regulations.

Farmers can grow the hemp in exchange for a $1,500 licensing fee and testing to confirm their crop does not possess enough intoxicating chemicals to get people high.

Industrial hemp grown in the state must contain less than 0.3 percent THC, the active ingredient in pot.

Marijuana, used by some for its intoxicating effects, and hemp, used to make clothing, paper, biofuels, foods and cosmetics, are different varieties of the same species of Cannabis sativa plant.

Nationwide, 19 states have passed legislation to allow some measure of industrial hemp production. Last year, Kentucky, Colorado and Vermont became the first states to report legal harvests of the product, according to the Hemp Industries Association.

Editing by Victoria Cavaliere and Paul Tait

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