Oregon: Senate Panel Weighs Hemp Bill (SB 676)

Drug Enforcement Agency still bans crop, but 14 states have approved it.

By Mitch Lies, Capital Press

There is a truth that must be heard! SALEM - Oregon growers looking for an alternative crop may have a new option if two state senators have their way.

Sens. Dave Nelson, R-Pendleton, and Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, are proposing a bill that permits production and possession of industrial hemp.

David Monson, a North Dakota farmer and state legislator who helped pass a law allowing hemp production in his home state, told a legislative committee in Salem Thursday, March 26, that hemp is an attractive rotation crop for his farm.

In a phone conference with the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, Monson said he can gross between $700 and $900 an acre on industrial hemp - more than any other crop he produces.

He urged the Oregon Legislature to follow North Dakota's lead and allow the production. Doing so, he said, could pressure the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to drop its ban on industrial hemp - a ban that to date has kept him from growing the crop, despite the fact he has a state permit.

Senate Bill 676 calls for the state to issue permits and regulate production of hemp. Among amendments lawmakers are crafting, the state is expected to require a hemp plant's THC - tetrahydrocannabinol - content be less than 0.3 percent and enact other safeguards to ensure farmers aren't growing the crop for its narcotic properties. THC is the component of marijuana that has such properties. Hemp is related to marijuana.

Monson said growers in Canada, where the crop is legal, typically get about 80 cents a pound for seed and generate additional revenue from selling the stalks for fiber.

Hemp seed can be produced with limited chemical inputs, he said, as the crop tends to outcompete weeds and requires only minimal fertilizer treatments.

According to a 1998 report from Oregon State University, the crop would require irrigation if produced in Oregon. It typically requires around 20 inches of rain in summer months under dryland production.

Rep. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, said 14 states have passed laws allowing industrial hemp production, and the National Association of State Directors of Agriculture has petitioned the DEA to allow states to permit growers to produce the crop.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture, which took no position on the bill, said in testimony to the committee it would need to initiate a license and inspection fee to recover the cost of administering a hemp production program.

The department also said if hemp production was approved, it would work to protect existing crops from hemp infestation.

"Sanitation would definitely be a consideration when drafting rules," said Jim Kramer, administrator of the department's Commodity Inspection Division.

Staff writer Mitch Lies is based in Salem. E-mail: mlies@capitalpress.com.

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