I-502 not only legalized and regulated marijuana in the Evergreen State, it also decriminalized cultivating and distributing industrial hemp. I-502 modifies the definition of “marijuana” under Washington state law to include only cannabis with greater than 0.3% THC concentration. Cannabis with less than this amount of THC — essentially industrial hemp — is no longer treated as “marijuana” and is not subject to penalties in Washington’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act.
Nonetheless, as many of you probably already know, all cannabis varieties, including hemp, are Schedule I controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulates hemp production and it is illegal to grow hemp without a DEA permit, though federal law does permit importing hemp fiber, sterilized seeds, and ingestible hemp-based products containing no THC. According to NORML, “the DEA has continued to deny every permit for large-scale hemp farming within America’s borders for the last four decades (though, in 1999, they did give Hawaii researchers permission to grow a one-quarter acre test plot of the crop).”
Despite the DEA’s best efforts to ensure the near elimination of all hemp production in the U.S., this past February, President Obama signed the Farm Bill which allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges, and universities to grow hemp for academic or agricultural research purposes in states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law. All of this means that when it comes to the industrial or commercial production and distribution of hemp, we have the same situation we do for marijuana, it is legal in Washington State but illegal under federal law.
How did hemp even attain the same level of demonization as marijuana? According to Huffington Post:
“Hemp, sometimes called marijuana’s “sober cousin,” hemp has a long history in America and has been used in a wide range of household products, including paper, cosmetics and textiles. In the 1700s, American colonial farmers were required by law to grow the plant, and it was used for hundreds of years in the U.S. to make rope and lamp oil. American hemp production peaked in 1943, with more than 150 million pounds from 146,200 harvested acres. Production dropped to zero in the late-1950s as a result of rising anti-drug sentiment and competition from synthetic fibers.”
The Washington State Liquor Control Board regulates marijuana, but no Washington State agency has yet been tasked with overseeing the regulation of industrial hemp. Though House Bill 1888 would have made the Washington State Department of Agriculture the overseer of all things hemp, including licenses to grow it and standards for its cultivation and trade, that Bill ultimately failed this past session. Still, many scholars in the know predict that some form of House Bill 1888 will eventually pass, finally lending some regulatory and market stability and organization to Washington’s nascent hemp industry.
We will be watching what goes on with hemp both in Washington State and in the various other jurisdictions (Alaska, California, Florida, Illinois,Nevada, New York, Oregon, Washington in which we have licensed lawyers and reporting back)>