State Politics

No legal hemp for Idaho this year, after House rejects Senate’s amendments

After much hue and cry from many Idaho lawmakers, farmers and the public about how desperately Idaho needs to legalize hemp to benefit the state’s agriculture industry, a bill doing just that sailed through the House and Senate with near unanimous support.

But in the final weeks of the legislative session, that bill died, so hemp will remain illegal in Idaho, even though the 2018 federal farm bill has legalized it.

To avoid running afoul of the federal government and interstate commerce law, the House passed a bill that would allow the other 41 states, and counting, that have legalized hemp — along with Canada — to transport their harvests and products through Idaho as long as they get a permit from the state and do not unload any of their cargo here.

As a consolation prize to Idaho farmers, Senate lawmakers on Monday added a section to that bill stating that it is their “intent” that Idaho get on board with legalized hemp in time for the 2020 growing season.

The Senate passed the amended bill in 34-1 vote on Tuesday. Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, cast the sole vote against.

The House needed to sign off on the Senate amendments, and on Thursday, it decided not to, voting to kill the bill.

Hurdles and glitches

While hemp is now legal and no longer considered a controlled substance under the bill signed in December by President Donald Trump, there are still some hurdles to be cleared and glitches to be fixed.

First, the federal government must issue guidelines under which hemp production will be allowed.

Then, any state that has legalized hemp production, or wants to, must submit a licensing and regulation plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval. If a state does not want to come up with its own plan, it can sign on to the federal program.

Once the federal government gets these pieces in place, interstate transport of hemp will be legal, which means truckers can freely enter Idaho with their shipments.

“The federal government is expected to promulgate its rules sometime early this fall and so transport will be allowed,” Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, told the Senate on Tuesday.

Additionally, Lee explained, Idaho tribes will be able to grow hemp on tribal lands under the federal rules without a state plan, so “solving the transportation piece is necessary.”

The interstate transport bill called for the Idaho Department of Agriculture to issue permits for hemp shipments traveling though the state, and Idaho State Police could inspect and enforce such shipments.

Lee said Idaho wants to see what the federal rules are before deciding a path forward on allowing hemp production in Idaho.

“We expect to comply and confirm with the federal farm bill that deals with industrial hemp, but we want to do so in a way that is Idaho’s solution and the Idaho way, which means that our director of the state Department of Agriculture must submit a plan in cooperation and collaboration with our Idaho State Police and the governor’s office to the USDA,” she told the Senate.

Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and in Idaho. Hemp with 0.3 percent THC or less is legal under federal guidelines. And hemp with any THC is illegal in Idaho.

But hemp with zero THC has been and will remain legal in Idaho.

“The Idaho State Police are not going to be chasing down any Costco truck full of hemp hearts,” said Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee. “They are not going to be stopping any businesses in Idaho that are currently selling CBD oil with no THC in it. Business as usual of what is currently being sold in Idaho will continue to be available to Idahoans.”

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Idaho Statesman investigative reporter Cynthia Sewell was named Idaho Press Club reporter of the year in 2017 and 2008. A University of Oregon graduate, she joined the Statesman in 2005. Her family has lived in Idaho since the mid-1800s.