Oregon and Washington state lawmakers are making another try at introducing a new crop to the Northwest: Industrial hemp, the non-drug cousin of marijuana.
For the fourth year in a row, the Washington Legislature is considering whether to legalize hemp farming. The initial, lopsided votes in favor suggest this might be the session it happens.
Hemp produces oil seed and fiber that processors turn into a wide range of goods from clothing and food to body care products and biofuels. Several hemp advocates testified Tuesday in separate public hearings in Salem and Olympia that the plant can even be used in building construction.
Elijah Eickmeyer, a fourth-grader from Chimacum, Washington, traveled to Olympia with his dad to lobby for passage.
"If the whole world used hemp, then that would replace plastic and other non-biodegradable products,” he said. “This would help my generation to have a healthy future."
Oregon lawmakers approved hemp farming in 2009, but it took until last year to grant the first grower and handler permits. Just nine hemp fields were planted in the inaugural growing season.
Now Oregon lawmakers are rewriting the strict rules to give potential hemp farmers more flexibility and to head off conflicts with marijuana growers.
Industrial hemp and marijuana belong to the same plant species. They can cross-pollinate if grown near each other, which can make the resulting crops unmarketable.
Hemp products are legal to sell in the U.S., but the plant itself has long been lumped together with marijuana as an illegal drug by the federal government. Lately, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has not interfered with commercial hemp cultivation in states such as Kentucky and Colorado that have reintroduced the crop under state oversight.