Hemp plant

Timing may allow planting this season

OLYMPIA — A bill from state Sen. Doug Ericksen that gets the state into the hemp business was signed into law Friday, raising the possibility that some Washington farmers may be able to plant a new cash crop during the current growing season.

Senate Bill 5276 got final approval from the Legislature Wednesday, April 24, and became law Friday with the governor’s signature. The swift action came after agricultural interests persuaded the governor’s office that planting this year might be possible if the bill was signed without delay.

“Hemp could become a major crop in my district, because in northwest Washington we would need no irrigation,” said Ericksen, R-Ferndale. “But this new cash crop can be grown anywhere in the state, and if we can get planting done this season, all the better.”

The once-forbidden crop has benefitted from recent changes to marijuana laws. Hemp has been cultivated worldwide for thousands of years, and has traditionally been used for rope. New uses include everything from textiles to plastics, and even food, says Ericksen. But hemp, a strain of the cannabis sativa plant, was banished from American farmfields when federal law declared marijuana a controlled substance. Hemp contains a small but detectable concentration of THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana.

Because several states, including Washington, have legalized marijuana, Congress passed a law last year removing hemp from the list of controlled substances and permitting renewed hemp production in states that implement a regulatory program. Ericksen’s legislation establishes a licensing, inspection and testing program under the state Department of Agriculture. The cost would be borne by growers, as with other commodity programs.

Regulators will have to work quickly to get the program under way during the current growing season, however. The ideal planting time began a month ago. The bill allows the Department of Agriculture to use an expedited rulemaking process so that hemp licenses can be issued without delay.