The growing, processing and transportation of industrial hemp in Idaho is expected to be legal in time for the 2022 growing season.
Idaho became the last state in the nation to legalize the production and processing of industrial hemp when Gov. Brad Little signed House Bill 126 into law April 16.
The bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 30-5 and in the House by a vote of 44-26 and became effective immediately when the governor signed it.
The bill directs the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to draft a state hemp program with input from any interested stakeholders.
But while the bill paves the way for industrial hemp to be legal in Idaho, at this point it is still illegal to grow, process or transport hemp in the state.
“Do not grow, process or transport hemp in Idaho until we get everything in place because there are several things that still need to happen before you can legally do that,” said Braden Jensen, deputy director of governmental affairs for Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.
The legislation is a narrow bill and only allows for people to grow and process industrial hemp if they obtain a license from the ISDA. People can also transport it on behalf of someone with a license.
“It is strictly a farmers-processors kind of bill,” Jensen said. “This does not legalize hemp for all Idahoans.”
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation has for more than two decades had policy created and approved by its members that supports legalizing industrial hemp in Idaho. House Bill 126 was authored by IFBF.
Hemp plants are the same species as marijuana but industrial hemp, by federal law, contains less than 0.3 percent of THC, the psychoactive compound that gets a user of marijuana high. It is virtually impossible to get high from industrial hemp.
Jensen said IFBF members understand the difference between industrial hemp and marijuana and the organization strongly opposes the legalization of marijuana in Idaho.
“We are and continue to be opposed to marijuana,” he said. “Industrial hemp is something that we in the agricultural industry understand really well and our members have supported it for decades.”
House Bill 126 directs the ISDA to begin formulating a state hemp plan through the state’s negotiated rulemaking process, which allows anyone interested in participating to do so.
The state ag department immediately began planning for that process after the governor signed the bill into law. To find out more information about how to participate in the hemp rulemaking process, visit the ISDA website – agri.idaho.gov/main/ – and click on the hemp link on the left side of the page.
People interested in participating in or following the process can easily sign up to do that through that hemp webpage, said ISDA Deputy Director Chanel Tewalt.
“The website is going to be the easiest place for a person to see everything about the process and be updated as it moves forward,” she said. “The state’s rulemaking process is very transparent. It’s meant to be something the general public can easily participate in.”
The first rulemaking meeting is June 23 and the second is June 30. Details on how to participate can be found on the ISDA’s hemp webpage.
After receiving public input, the ISDA will put together a state hemp plan that follows federal guidelines for industrial hemp. That plan needs to be approved by the governor and the director of the Idaho State Police.
Idaho’s hemp plan needs to be wrapped up and submitted to USDA by Sept. 1. The plan will also need to be approved by state lawmakers during the 2022 legislative session, which begins next January.
It’s a fairly quick timeline but ISDA will meet all the requirements, Tewalt said.
“The whole intent of the law is clear, that we’re ready for a growing season in 2022, and we’re going to get there,” she said.
Once the state plan is finalized, ISDA will oversee the growing and processing of hemp in Idaho.
Hemp products have always been sold, legally, in the United States but not until the 2018 farm bill was passed was it legal to grow and process hemp domestically. All of the hemp products sold in the U.S. previously came from other countries.
The 2018 farm bill made it legal for U.S. farmers to grow industrial hemp but it left it up to states to craft their own plans. Now, Idaho farmers will soon be able to join the fray.
During public testimony on proposed hemp bills that were introduced in the Idaho Legislature over the past three years, some people testified that farmers could make $30,000 or more per acre growing industrial hemp.
As people know by now, that was a grossly inflated forecast and blatantly false. However, hemp is used in more than 20,000 products and Idaho farmers can now begin to figure out how and if industrial hemp can fit into their rotations.
Idaho farmers will soon be able to start figuring out for themselves whether hemp works for them, Tewalt said.
“If we know anything about Idaho agriculture it’s that it’s incredibly productive and it’s very innovative,” she said.
One of the keys to figuring out how hemp production could work in Idaho will be research by university scientists and that’s why House Bill 126 includes a strong emphasis on allowing that research to be conducted in Idaho, Jensen said.
“We really do want our state institutions to start homing in on what the potential for hemp is in Idaho,” he said. “We really do need to begin understanding things like, which varieties do well in Idaho’s growing conditions.”
“It’s going to be really important for … growers to have that on-the-ground, Idaho-specific type of information that will be helpful to them,” Tewalt said.
While some growers and others involved in the state’s agricultural industry are keeping an eye on hemp to see where it goes, others are itching to begin growing it here.
One of them is Tim Cornie, owner of 1000 Springs Mill, a food company in Buhl that contracts will growers in the area to produce organic foods as beans, food barley, oatmeal and ancient grains.
Cornie said the company plans to begin selling hemp seeds for human food as soon as it’s legal to do that in Idaho. That will provide more opportunities for Idaho farmers, as well as 1000 Springs Mill.
“Hemp grain is a super food,” he said. “In Germany, they make high-end chocolates from it and it has as much protein as soybeans. There are so many things you can do with it. This will be another product for our company.”
Mattie Mead is the owner and founder of Hempitecture, a company based in Ketchum that specializes in building materials derived from hemp biomass.
The company in May received a $207,000 Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission grant from the state to partner with University of Idaho on research and development of a natural fiber insulation product Hempitecture produces for the building industry.
For now, Hempitecture uses hemp imported from other areas but Mead looks forward to the day Idaho farmers can produce hemp for the company’s manufacturing plant in Idaho.
“What really excites me about the passage of (House Bill 126) is the possibility of growing this in Idaho and supporting Idaho farmers,” he said. “It’s definitely a new and emerging industry and Idaho can now be well-suited to capitalize on this industry.”
Jensen said Farm Bureau members are excited to see this opportunity to grow hemp in Idaho if they choose to.
“It’s not something for everybody and I think we’ll continue to see this industry develop,” he said. “It will develop slowly and with time but it certainly is an option for some people as they become a little more familiar with it.”