Idaho Legalized Industrial Hemp. Now What?

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Idaho has become the last state to legalize industrial hemp, more than two years after the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) legalized it as a commodity crop.

On April 16, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed House Bill 126 into law, legalizing the production, processing, research and transportation of industrial hemp with up to 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the state, beginning with the spring 2022 growing season, the legislation states.

Since the passage of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014 Farm Bill) and the 2018 Farm Bill, the conversation of hemp legalization in Idaho has been an ongoing debate. The state focused on how it could create a bill that would provide Idaho farmers the opportunity to grow hemp while still maintaining an enforceable drug policy, said Braden Jensen, the deputy director of governmental affairs and national affairs coordinator at the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, a grassroots organization affiliated with the American Farm Bureau Federation that advocates for the agricultural community.

"The state wanted to be methodical, careful and cautious as they went forward with legalization," he said. “That was kind of the balance that attempted to be struck with the bill that passed this year, and we have seen different variations of the bill over time that have tried to have that appropriate balance."

Compared to other state's hemp laws, Jensen said the bill is very "narrowly tailored," as it only applies to licensed growers and processors. He also notes that the sale of hemp products containing any amount of THC to Idaho consumers is still prohibited, as was the case before the law passed.

The bill permits hemp to be grown and processed in the state, outlining regulations in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) final rule and the 2018 Farm Bill, he said.

A state management hemp plan and state regulations must be in place before hemp cultivation can begin in Idaho, and the state is already working to construct both, he said.

"We see them putting together a hemp website on their webpage, and anybody interested in participating in that can sign up to receive notifications of when those rulemaking meetings would happen—that is specifically for the state regulations and rules," he said. "But when it comes to the state management [hemp] plan, there is a state house bill that was passed that specified the [hemp] plan has to be put together in consultation with a law enforcement officer, the governor's office and the Idaho agriculture industry."

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) must prepare and submit a state management hemp plan that complies with the 2018 Farm Bill rules and regulations no later than Sept. 1, 2021, as previously reported by Hemp Grower.

Jensen anticipates that the ISDA will submit the hemp plan with ample time for the USDA to review and approve it to ensure farmers can begin the long-awaited hemp cultivation in the 2022 growing season.

Farmers have shown a varied interest in what sector they would like to grow for, Jensen said, as he has heard quite a bit of interest from the grain, fiber and cannabidiol (CBD) perspectives from farmers he has spoken to around the state.

The legalization can provide farmers with several opportunities, like the chance to diversify their operations or utilize hemp as a potential new rotational crop, Jensen said. 

However, CBD retailers may not experience as great of a change in their operations.

"For our source specifically, we can't change any of the products that we offer," said Holly Pearl, co-owner of CBD Kave, an online CBD retailer based in Kuna, Idaho. "But it is a step in the right movement, and I say movement because it is a movement, in my opinion."

Pearl said she is excited about the opportunity to eventually purchase products locally, as it would be amazing to say a product CBD Kave sells is 100% an Idaho product. 

The legalization can also create the opportunity for retailers and farmers to strengthen their relationships and establish more partnerships, she said.

"For example, we have local bee harvesters who house bees and cultivate honey, and they are very interested in partnering with cannabis growers to make a combined, locally grown honey that also has the benefits of CBD,” she said. “Growers are going to want to ship anywhere that someone wants to purchase and sell, but they're also going to want to sell locally as well, and retailers are going to want that too."

Locally grown products can also create other benefits for retailers, such as acquiring more potent and pure products to sell, as it will take less time for the product to travel to them before it hits the shelves, she said.

While Pearl said the benefits of legalization are “obvious” for farmers and retailers, she hopes to see the state continue to progress and eventually legalize the sale of products containing up to 0.3% THC.

And Jensen agrees, as he said there is still a “long road ahead” for Idaho and its hemp industry.

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