BOISE, Idaho (AP) — It was 2018, and after years of running a successful business in the Boise area — Same Day Electric — Patty Fletcher and her husband, Randy, wanted a change of pace.
They landed on what might seem like an odd choice: farming. And then landed on hemp, which they found to be one of the most versatile options.
“We have lived in Boise for about 25 years, we still have a home in Boise,” Patty Fletcher told the Idaho Statesman. “... We looked at different places and what kind of crop we wanted to grow, and found out about hemp.”
There was just one big problem: Idaho doesn’t allow the cultivating or selling of hemp. But its next-door neighbor, Oregon, does.
So the Fletchers sold their Garden City electric business, found a 30-acre farm in Vale and began working by hand to ensure a harvest for this fall.
“It was really challenging because it is a new industry, but it has been great. We found a buyer who was interested in all of it,” Patty Fletcher said. “Hemp is a profitable product, so it is twofold: We could buy the farm, make it work financially; plus we’re growing something that we really believed in.”
If the state of Idaho starts believing in hemp, people like the Fletchers might not have to go elsewhere.
Idaho is one of only three states — along with South Dakota and Mississippi — that does not allow the cultivation of hemp, despite the federal government making it legal to grow industrial hemp. (The District of Columbia also does not allow hemp production.)
The fact that Idaho is one of the last states to not conform with the 2018 farm bill signed by President Trump does not sit well with state Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, or Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee. And both said they once again plan to do something about it in the 2020 legislative session.
“I am going to bring forward another conformity bill to remove hemp from Schedule I,” Moon said, referring to the drug classification system that lumps hemp in with, among other things, marijuana. “It has been removed by the federal government off of the Schedule I list and we need to conform with that. We need to let our farmers do what’s best for their financial situation.”
The Department of Agriculture allows and regulates the growth, sale and transportation of hemp, but Idaho’s ban on the product results in conflict and confusion.
After arrests this year of truck drivers transporting hemp through the state, Idaho Gov. Brad Little took executive action to allow the transportation of hemp, at least solving that portion of the problem temporarily.
“The executive order serves as a stopgap measure until the Idaho Legislature enacts a more permanent solution,” a press release from the governor’s office said. “The executive order does not authorize or legalize the production of hemp, its byproducts, oils or any other derivative prohibited by Idaho law.”
Troy echoed that, saying Little’s move was a short-term fix to what has been a long-term issue.
In the 2019 legislative session, there was a push from farmers and some legislators to legalize hemp to benefit the state’s agriculture industry. A bill sponsored by Troy and Moon would have done just that. It sailed through the House and Senate with near unanimous support, but in the final weeks of the legislative session, the bill died over amendments.
“The House supported the bill,” Moon said. “However, when it moved into the Senate it was changed from an agricultural bill to a law enforcement bill, and that was unfortunate, because we have lots of Idaho residents who are now working over in Oregon to make a living, and I think Idahoans are missing out on a great agricultural product.“
Troy has been fighting to legalize hemp in the state for the past five years and 2020 will mark the third year for Moon to issue legislation. She said she hopes that additional education on the use of hemp, the truck drivers’ arrests and the governor’s involvement will help Idaho have a new hemp law.
The Fletchers and other farmers surely would benefit from a change. Some of the best hemp-growing climates in the nation are found in Southwest Idaho as well as eastern Oregon, according to Luke Fletcher, Patty’s son.
Patty Fletcher said that the family would expand into Idaho if given the opportunity, even though Vale and Malheur County “have been very welcoming and a great place to grow hemp.”
“We would have bought a farm in Idaho if we could have. Being an hour and a half away from our home and our family, it has been a challenge to have to go back and check on your house,” Patty Fletcher said. “It’s really taken our time out here. We don’t get into Boise nearly as much as we would like to.”
Luke Fletcher noted that sellers in Oregon have access to buyers in most of the country, but regionalization would be a huge benefit.
“We have found (a buyer) in Oregon. Typically a lot of farmers have to reach out across the country because it can cross state lines. ... We don’t have to sell locally, but we were fortunate enough to find interest locally,” he said.
Troy said it is about time Idaho created its own rules to benefit farmers and consumers.
“If we let the fed write the rules for how we grow hemp in Idaho, we will be the only state in the United States of America that uses the federal rules other than developing our own,” Troy said. “That’s just so unlike Idaho. We really value our privacy, especially in agriculture. So I am about to make another effort to make sure this is done right and I hope it is one of the first bills of the session.”