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Idaho View: Some — not all — Idaho farmers can grow hemp

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Windrows of hemp stretch for acres in September 2020 in an Alberta, Canada field.

Whenever someone in Idaho suggests giving the state’s farmers the opportunity to grow and market industrial hemp, lawmakers always answer the same way:

Not yet.

For nearly 16 years, former state Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, sought to persuade his colleagues to see the crop’s potential as a source for everything from rope to paper, from building supplies to automotive components — even a food supplement. The plant’s low THC content made it no threat to public health. Throw in hemp’s 12-foot-deep root system and you have an excellent rotational crop.

Not yet, Trail was told.

Then two years ago, Congress and President Donald Trump passed legislation lifting the non-psychoactive hemp from the list of federally controlled substances. State after state opened their doors to the new cash crop, allowing farmers to get loans and crop insurance.

Not yet, said Idaho.

In fact, the state was so stuck in its ways that truckers hauling the crop into Idaho got busted. By the time the cases worked their way out, Gov. Brad Little issued an executive order allowing interstate transportation to go unmolested.

And still, the word came down from Boise: Not yet.

Things perked up in 2019, when state Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, and Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, got their hemp bill past the House on a 63-7 vote.

But law enforcement balked. So the measure got amended to death in the Senate — and ended up dying on the House floor.

Meanwhile, the number of states that, like Idaho, viewed hemp as just another form of “Reefer Madness” dwindled to a few.

Still, Idaho said not yet.

Here was Troy and Lee before the House State Affairs Committee earlier this year:

“We put so many sideboards on this ... I think we could haul an elephant,” Troy told the panel. “This is the bill that we tried to make so that it could work for everybody and work the most effectively for our farmers and our producers, but also for our law enforcement to protect our drug policies.”

The Senate had already gone along.

The last holdouts were signing up — New Hampshire in 2019, South Dakota in March and Mississippi would loosen its restrictions by July.

As the Twin Falls Times-News reported, all it took to spook the House panel was retired prosecutor Monte Stiles calling hemp a celebration of drug use.

“The culture of hemp is the culture of marijuana,” Stiles said. “Growing hemp in Idaho is not a legal requirement, it’s a policy choice.”

So down went Idaho’s hemp aspirations on an 8-7 committee vote.

That doesn’t mean that Idaho could wall itself off from the rest of the country.

Idaho’s Indian reservations answer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not the state of Idaho. Moreover, Little’s executive order makes note of transporting the crop “to or from Indian Country ... to or from the closest interstate highway.” So last week, the Nez Perce Tribe announced it would proceed toward cultivating, processing and distributing industrial hemp. It’s seeking comments by Oct. 23 on proposed amendments to the Nez Perce Tribal Code.

“Due to its versatility and organic nature, industrial hemp has been identified as a potential avenue for economic development on the reservation,” Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Law and Order Subcommittee Chairman Arthur Broncheau said. “Because there is tremendous growth in sectors of the economy that rely on hemp, the Tribe believes hemp is an emerging market that can accomplish economic self-sufficiency and increase jobs in our region.”

So in other words, some farmers — just not all — can grow and market hemp in the state of Idaho.

What will state lawmakers say about that when Troy and Lee come calling again next winter? — M.T.



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