Federal stance gives hope for Oregon hemp production
PORTLAND — People who would like to grow hemp in Oregon for fiber and textile production say a federal decision not to challenge marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado gives them the green light.
U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall in Portland told The Oregonian that her office would not interfere with hemp production so long as the state creates robust controls and enforcement.
A state law legalizing hemp production has been on hold since it was passed in 2009, but a co-sponsor said the Obama administration's new approach to state marijuana laws should allow Oregon regulators to start making rules for growing hemp.
“Sounds like we will be having a conversation with the Department of Agriculture and figuring out what the next steps are,” Democratic Sen. Floyd Prozanski of Eugene said.
An Agriculture Department official, Lindsay Eng, said it would seek an opinion from the state attorney general's office.
Oregon is one of seven states with laws that permit the production of industrial hemp, a relative of marijuana grown for its sturdy fiber and seeds. Hemp and marijuana both are cannabis sativa, but hemp has only a negligible amount of the ingredient in marijuana that produces highs.
But hemp faces considerable challenges to becoming a major crop in Oregon. A congressional report said the international market is small and the competition stiff. Experts at Oregon State University say it would likely require irrigation, meaning farmers might choose to grow higher-value crops instead.
State officials held off implementing the 2009 law, saying they would wait until the federal government reclassified marijuana from a substance prone to abuse and lacking medicinal value.
The government's power to file forfeiture proceedings against assets of people suspected of breaking the law has been a hurdle, hemp advocates say.
“You would literally be betting the farm to find out if you could grow hemp,” said Tom Murphy, national outreach coordinator for Vote Hemp.
Marshall said the government would require states to provide the same stringent rules for hemp production that federal officials expect of states that allow recreational and medical cannabis.
“And if they fail to do that, then my office would come in and take action, either by criminally prosecuting individuals or civil forfeitures or potentially attacking the regulatory scheme in court,” she said.
Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com