Boys (Idaho Capital Sun) — Amid years of historic drought and a push toward more sustainable resources to cut carbon emissions, the legalization of industrial hemp may have come just in time for Idaho farming.
The hemp plant is believed to be one of the oldest cultivated crops in recent human history, but it became legal to grow it in Idaho last year. Farmers began to obtain licenses from the state to produce and process crops during this growing season for commodities such as insulation, paper, oil and food products.
Idaho was the 50th state in the country to legalize industrial hemplaw Project that passed the Idaho legislature in April 2021. Braden Jensen, deputy director of government affairs for the Idaho Farm Bureau, said his organization has been lobbying for policy change for the better part of the past 20 years, but the 2018 federal farm bill that repealed made Hemp is off the list of controlled substances issue a priority in the 2021 legislative session. He said legalization represented an opportunity for growers to diversify their operations.
“Idaho has taken a very serious and methodical approach, investigating and understanding what it means to open this industry to farmers in the state and go into this field with our eyes wide open,” said Jensen.
The bill included an emergency clause to make the law effective once it passed both houses of the legislature, kicking off a compressed timetable for the Idaho Department of Agriculture.
Chanel Tewalt, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture, said there are two options when a state legalizes cannabis: Either the USDA would act as the industry’s regulator, or the state would serve as the regulator. Idaho chose the latter, and allowed the production, processing, transportation, and research of cannabis throughout the state under certain guidelines. But these guidelines had to be developed by the department.
“This really started off a very busy summer for us,” said Tewalt. “We’ve had some tremendous cooperation from law enforcement, and none of this accelerated schedule would have been possible without that.”
The department held two public meetings that Tewalt said were well attended by people who had a deep knowledge of the industry from relationships with other countries where the practice had been legal for years. By late October, the USDA approved Idaho’s plan to regulate cannabis, and the department opened licensing applications in early November.
Hemp vs. Marijuana: Like the Great Danes vs. Chihuahuas
Idaho has two licensing options available, one for dealers and one for producers. Dealers are allowed to process cannabis raw materials, including seeds, into other materials, but they are not allowed to grow the crop. The licensed producer can grow and market the crop, including seeds.
Both licenses require a background check and must be renewed annually. Producers will have their cannabis tested for acceptable levels of tetrahydrocannabinol – also known as THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Cannabis falls under the same type of marijuana, which is called cannabis sativa, but it has a completely different genetic profile.
“I’ve heard people liken it to dog breeds,” said Teult. “Big Danes and Chihuahuas are of the same species, but they are very far apart in terms of what they actually are.”
The main role of the state as the cannabis regulator will be to test production quotas and ensure that THC levels meet the legal limit. Law enforcement officials can also still take samples and pull items from a truck transporting cannabis to test for THC content as well.
“We will draw samples from every plot that is grown, and our sample size is determined based on the size of the plot, the area,” said Tewalt. “Hemp cannot go anywhere. They cannot leave their farm until they have an acceptable lab result.”
The minimum is 0.3% or less to obtain an acceptable result. If the batch is tested for this, the whole crop must either be destroyed or mixed with a different strain to reduce the THC content.
About 60 applications have been initiated with the state, Tewalt said, and eight applications have been granted in full — four dealers, three producers, and one processor/producer.
Two companies from Idaho are planning very different uses for cannabis
The first applicant to obtain a therapist’s license wasHempitecture Company, a company based in Ketchum that specializes in hemp building materials. Matty Mead, the company’s founder, said Hempitecture’s main focus going forward with a processor license would be hemp wool, a fiber-backed insulation product. Mead said the company is building a manufacturing facility in Jerome County to set up a hemp wool production line.
“Hemp wool is safe to touch, safe to handle, and no gloves needed,” Mead said. “So there are benefits for installers, contract crew, and ultimately, the homeowner. By using a material that does not contain any (VOCs), it provides a healthier indoor air environment.”
The cannabis plant is also drought-resistant, Mead said, which is beneficial in a situation with a desert climate that is expected to see an increase in low water years with climate change.
Mead said Hempitecture has been in business since 2013 but operates in a legal gray area when it comes to handling and transportation. The company acquired hemp from Montana and other areas across the Northwest, but legalization allows it to bring the supply chain to Idaho.
“We’re looking at industrial hemp as an economic opportunity for Idaho, and we’re envisioning a future where industrial hemp can come from 10 miles from our facility for 10 hours,” Mead said.
Tim Corney, co-owner of1000 Springs miles At Buhl, he was the first applicant to receive a handling and production license. Korney said their organic farm produces beans, grains, and other products that are sold in retail stores and locally. Corny plans to grow a small piece of hemp and start using it in healthy products like protein bars and shakes. Corney said hemp has more protein than soy and is generally easier to digest.
Korney doesn’t worry about the risks involved in sampling the pieces, because he’s confident they won’t exceed 0.3%. He added that there should be no concern about licensed cannabis growers growing marijuana in a hemp field, because the two would receive mutually and render marijuana useless as medicine.
“(The seeds) can travel nine to 12 miles and destroy a marijuana crop,” Korney said. “If you’re a pot grower, you don’t want any hemp beans around.”
interested? Attend a cannabis production meeting in Buhl
Mead said he has received many phone calls in recent months from people interested in growing the industrial cannabis plant but who don’t know much about it. With this in mind, Mead and Corny organized a media meeting at 11 a.m. February 4 at 1000 Springs Mill in Buhl. The meeting will feature representatives from the Idaho Department of Agriculture and the Idaho Farm Bureau, as well as Ben Brimlow, an agronomist with the Montana Hemp Production Company. Hemp IND. Brimlow will share his knowledge of the risks, opportunities, and ideal conditions involved in growing cannabis.
“There is a lot of knowledge to be shared in this event,” Korney said.