Early last week, Senate lawmakers voted unanimously on ESSSB 5276 legalizing agricultural hemp production. If approved by the House and signed by Governor Jay Inslee, the bill would require the state Department of Agriculture (WSDA) to set up a commodity program to regulate the industry and submit a state regulatory plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“This bill has been a long time coming,” Sen. Judy Warnick (R-13) told colleagues Mar. 12 on the House floor. “It’s a very interesting crop with lots of uses, and I think this bill is going to help the producers and all those involved in hemp and the marketing of hemp within the United States, within our state and even internationally.”
Hemp is used to produce a variety of items including rope and paper and was among the crops grown by President George Washington throughout his life. During World War II, the United States government heavily used hemp products and even produced a film titled “Hemp for Victory!” However, production ended in the 1950s, and was eventually added to the 1970 Federal Controlled Substances Act.
A 2005 Congressional Research Service report found that the U.S. was the only developed nation that had no industrial hemp crop. Although the U.S. hemp industry has grown since then, the nation remains the top importer of hemp, primarily from China.
In 2014, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill that allowed some states to conduct limited research programs on growing hemp. In 2016, the state legislature approved ESSB 6206 creating a research pilot through WSDA. In 2017, Washington lawmakers removed hemp from the Uniform Controlled Substances Act via HB 2064 sponsored by Rep. Matt Shea (R-4). Last year, Congress enacted the federal Agriculture Improvement Act, which among other things removed hemp from the Federal Controlled Substances Act.
Washington’s effort to allow industrial hemp comes after the successful legalization of marijuana, which contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that gives the leaf its potency but is not found in hemp. In 1998, Washington voters approved Initiative 692 (I-692), allowing the use of medical marijuana for certain purposes; the law was amended in 2011 by the state legislature. In 2012, voters approved Initiative 502 (I-502) decriminalizing recreational marijuana, which is regulated through the state’s Liquor Control Board.
ESSSB 5276 has been referred to the House Commerce & Gaming Committee, but has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing.