Tim Cornie, co-owner of 1,000 Springs Mill, has pushed to legalize growing and processing hemp in Idaho for years. He remembers receiving an angry phone call during the time he was lobbying from someone who was “livid” in a “’how are you doing this to our kids?’” kind of way.
“At the time, I explained how important this product is to the body, how much history there is, how agreeable to the body it is, and the protein, and the nutrients that are available,” Cornie said.
“I said, ‘Listen, you should be feeding this to your kids. This is not what you think it is.’”
“He had a complete turnabout with what he thought,” Cornie said.
Eventually, enough minds changed to allow the Idaho Legislature to pass HB 126 in April. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Brad Little, making Idaho the final state in the nation to allow for the growing and processing of the crop, as previously reported by the Idaho Press.
Last month, Idaho State Department of Agriculture officials announced the agency received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to license Idaho businesses and farms to produce hemp. The Idaho State Police approved opening the application process.
So far, there are 38 Idaho businesses that have started or completed an application for a license, said Chanel Tewalt, deputy director of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, via email.
“Any time you have a new industry there’s pioneetrs in that industry,” said Sean Ellis, spokesperson for the Idaho Farm Bureau, a nonprofit trade group which backed the legislation.
“The pioneers in the Idaho hemp industry are going to start coming forward,” Ellis said.
WHAT THE LEGISLATION ALLOWS
The legislation authorized the production, research and processing of industrial hemp by those licensed in Idaho, and allowed for the legal possession and transportation of hemp products by removing hemp from Idaho’s list of Schedule I drugs.
The bill did not legalize hemp products sold to consumers, including CBD oil, that contain any amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Prior to the legislation, Idaho law made no distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana. As a result, the state arrested several truck drivers hauling loads of industrial hemp through Idaho and threatened them with drug trafficking charges that carry mandatory minimum prison terms.
There are two kinds of licenses businesses can apply for: a producer license or a handling license. A producer license is for people or businesses who are looking to plant and harvest the crop, but not process it further, Tewalt said. A handling license lets users process the crop into different products, she said. Some businesses are applying for both the producer license and the handling license, Tewalt said.
Legalizing hemp required addressing serious misconceptions about the crop. Hemp is often erroneously thought of as having high quantities of THC, Cornie said.
But there are four types of hemp plants that can be grown for different uses. The most well-known, marijuana, contains THC as an active ingredient, Cornie said. But not only was growing that plant not legalized under Idaho’s law, the plants are not closely related, Cornie said.
“I say it’s the difference between a cat and a dog,” Cornie said — cousins, but distant cousins, he said.
Another variety of hemp plant produces CBD, the oil of which is used to treat a variety of ailments. But because CBD products contain trace amounts of THC, the cultivation of that hemp variety was not legalized either.
There are two hemp varieties that will be permitted for cultivation in Idaho, Cornie said.
The first produces hemp seed, which can be processed into a grain consumed like rice or made into other food products.
“It’s super nutritious and people don’t need to be scared of it,” Cornie said.
Hemp hearts, the part of the hemp seed left when its husk is removed, have more protein than soybeans, and the crop has been part of the local diet of east Asian cultures, especially in China, for thousands of years, Cornie said.
The second variety permitted for growing in Idaho produces fibers that can be used for architectural and other purposes, Cornie said.
IDAHO’S HEMP PIONEERS
One hemp-in-architecture pioneer is Matthew Mead, founder and CEO of Hempitecture, a Ketchum-based company that specializes in hemp building materials. Mead lobbied for the hemp bill this spring, telling legislators that Hempitecture was importing materials from Canada, but Mead hoped to source locally grown hemp. The company’s flagship product is HempWool, an insulation material for residential and commercial properties.
Today, construction crews are building a Hempitecture insulation manufacturing site in Jerome, about 70 miles south of Ketchum in the heart of the Magic Valley’s vast agricultural region. Company leaders expect the plant to be operational in May or June, according to a news release.
Cornie co-owns 1,000 Springs Mill, which is based in Buhl. The company grows and processes a variety of organic grains and beans, including heirloom varieties, and growing hemp would expand the company’s offerings.
Cornie plans to start at a small scale, planting between 5 to 20 acres, which will allow him to learn the nuances associated with growing the plant. For example, the plant does not like having “wet feet,” meaning that it does not require as much water as some crops, he said.
But one challenge producers may face is keeping harvesting equipment clean from material from the plant so that the equipment doesn’t overheat and ignite, he said. Additionally, the plant has a high enough moisture content that it must be processed soon after harvest, rather than leaving it in a truck overnight, Cornie said.
He’ll likely be sourcing seed from growers in Montana, he said. Eventually, he hopes that a variety will be developed that is tailored to Southern Idaho’s local climates.
Some in the agriculture sector are wondering whether Canyon County — one of the world’s leading seed-producing regions — will produce hemp seed next, Ellis said.
Idaho Press reporter Ryan Suppe contributed to this report.