Legal Hemp in Oregon: It’s About Time

Recreational marijuana isn’t the only thing to get excited about in Oregon. Just this week, Oregon’s rules to obtain an industrial hemp permit just went into effect and Oregon’s Department of Agriculture (ODA) has begun accepting applications to grow hemp. Oregonians should expect to see the state’s very first state-legal hemp crop in the ground this spring. This is great news for the nascent state-to-state hemp industry (which is actually being led by Kentucky of all places).  

Oregon actually passed its industrial hemp act back in 2009. Senate Bill 676 not only permits the production, trade, and possession of industrial hemp commodities and products, but it also delegates rule-making authority to the Department of Agriculture and the Rules Advisory Committee to create regulations to allow growers to cultivate hemp under a state-issued license. The actual hemp program was not implemented immediately after the bill’s passage, mostly due to the state’s concerns about federal prohibition of hemp cultivation by farmers without permits from the Drug Enforcement Administration — which the DEA is notorious for virtually never granting.

Nonetheless, in the 2014 Federal farm bill, Congress created an exception to penalties under the Controlled Substance Act if industrial hemp is cultivated by state Departments of Agriculture, colleges, and/or universities for academic or agricultural research purposes only. As a result, and in tandem with implementing Measure 91 and this spring’s planting season, Oregon’s Department of Agricultural and the Rules Advisory Committee finally undertook rule-making for the state’s hemp program and the first set of published rules went into effect on February 2nd.

The following are some of the highlights of the rules for obtaining a permit to become an Oregon hemp farmer, handler, or hemp seed producer:

  • Individuals can apply for licenses to grow or handle industrial hemp fiber and for permits to grow and handle agricultural hemp seed. In both cases a license is required.
  • Eligible participants are a “person, joint venture or cooperative.”
  • Fees for each permit or license are set at $1,500 and they are valid for three years.
  • Oregon’s industrial hemp law allows for hemp seed to be used only to plant new crops.
  • A grower’s industrial hemp crop must be at least 2.5 contiguous acres.
  • Industrial hemp must contain less than 0.3 percent THC to distinguish it from marijuana.
  • There are significant record keeping and annual reporting requirements for growers.
  • There are mandatory sampling, testing, and crop investigative standards.
  • There is no mention of any residency requirement in either the rules or in the governing statute. So, like cannabis currently is, Oregon’s hemp industry will be open to out of staters.

A copy of the permit application can be found here.

Though some have criticized the ODA for making the hemp permitting process regulation-laden and too restrictive, the very fact that the ODA is now accepting applications for hemp cultivators and seed handlers is a huge step forward for hemp’s revival in the U.S. Still, Reuters reports that no one has applied for a permit yet. Given the success Kentucky is seeing with its first hemp crop, we except this will change soon enough.

All in all, there are 18 states that have differentiated hemp from marijuana and set up regulatory systems for hemp cultivation and/or possession. This year though only three of those states — Kentucky, Colorado, and Vermont — have actually put hemp seed in the ground. We will be looking to Oregon to join that select list soon.

While on the subject of Oregon, four of our lawyers spoke at our sold out seminar in Portland this week on Oregon’s Measure 91. In our post-seminar meeting, what became clear to all of our cannabis lawyers was how many of the seminar attendees talked about how difficult they were finding it to stay on top of the legal goings-on in Oregon on the marijuana front. Again and again we were asked what someone interested in Oregon’s marijuana industry should be doing to stay in tune with the legal situation there. In light of this, we are volunteering to send out a free monthly (or so) newsletter with updates on Oregon’s cannabis rules and regulations (maybe with a bit of hemp thrown in when appropriate), until such time as they become more constant and firmly established. We will create and send out this newsletter if there is sufficient interest for it. So, if you are interested in receiving this newsletter, please leave a comment below with your email and we will put you on the list, without publishing your comment live on the web.