McConnell Hemp

In this August 2015 photo, hemp plants grow at a research farm in Lexington, Ky. 

BOISE — The Senate on Monday approved legislation to legalize hemp, although it appears to be in trouble in the House.

The Senate voted 32-3 to approve the bill that would legalize the growing and selling of hemp products containing 0.3 % or less of THC, the cannabis compound that gives marijuana its high.

Backers say the state needs to pass legislation that conforms with federal law on hemp while maintaining the state’s prohibition on marijuana. Congress late last year passed legislation that effectively legalized hemp.

“The problem is, right now, our law doesn’t differentiate,” said Republican Sen. Jim Rice. “Under our current code, hemp is marijuana.”

Oregon and Kentucky are big producers of hemp, and much of what they grow is processed in Colorado. Companies rely on interstate trucking to transport the plant and often drive through Oklahoma and Idaho, where some truck drivers have been arrested.

Backers of legalizing hemp in Idaho say the state’s climate is ideal for growing hemp and farmers could sell hemp seeds and a hemp-derived extract called cannabidiol, or CBD, seen by many as a health aid.

In its purified distilled form, CBD oil commands thousands of dollars per kilogram, and farmers can make more than $100,000 an acre growing hemp plants to produce it. That distillate also can be converted into a crystallized form or powder.

Opponents say legalizing hemp could make it more difficult to enforce the state’s marijuana laws.

The bill was amended in the Senate to address those concerns by law enforcement officials as well as Republican Gov. Brad Little, who last week said he was chagrinned with the House version because it didn’t include law enforcement provisions.

Republican Rep. Dorothy Moon on Monday said the Senate amendments changed the bill too much and withdrew as one of the sponsors, along with other House members.

Moon said rewriting of the bill to meet concerns of law enforcement officials made the bill a law enforcement bill rather than the agriculture bill she initially put forward.

“The new (amended Senate bill) makes hemp illegal to grow, possess and transport in Idaho,” she said.

Republican Sen. Abby Lee supported the bill, saying Idaho needed to start legalizing hemp so that the state Department of Agriculture could have time to work on possible rules heading into the next legislative session.

“We all know that we have to figure out what we’re going to do in Idaho and what that policy is going to look like,” she said.

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