The creation of an Oregon Hemp Commission has gotten farther in 2020 than during two previous legislative sessions, with the proposal heading for a Senate vote after passing the House.
Under House Bill 4051, Oregon hemp farmers would pay an assessment of up to 1.5% of the value of their crop to collectively pay for research and promotions.
“This commission is going to allow us to look at the best farm practices, coexistence and also provides funding,” said Rep. Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro, during the Feb. 14 House floor vote.
Hemp acreage surged nearly sixfold in 2019 over the previous year, to about 64,000 acres, but the crop has suffered severe growing pains. Apart from weather-related problems, hemp farmers encountered a dearth of equipment needed to harvest and process the crop.
A crop commission is intended to help the hemp industry coordinate and prioritize research and expand market channels for hemp products domestically and abroad.
The issue of “coexistence” is also attracting attention — hemp not only has the potential to cross-pollinate with psychoactive marijuana plants, but its male pollen can also result in unwanted seeds in female hemp plants.
Cannabis with seeds is considered to be of lower quality in marijuana plants that contain mind-altering THC as well as hemp plants that contain cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound touted for its healthful qualities.
The proposed Oregon Hemp Commission would work closely with Oregon State University’s Global Hemp Innovation Center to resolve problems and understand how to maximize the productivity of Oregon’s industry, said Jeff Steiner, the center’s associate director.
“Hemp is truly on its way,” said Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass. “It is going to be an economic driver for all of Oregon and we’re excited about it.”
After passing the House 49-4, HB 4051 was approved 4-1 by the Senate Committee on General Government and Emergency Preparedness on Feb. 19 with a “do pass recommendation.”
Similar legislation languished and died in 2017 and 2019 after passing initial legislative committees and then being referred to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, which makes budget decisions.
In 2020, legislative committees have sent HB 4051 directly to the floor without that detour, which appears to have improved its traction this year.
The lack of a detailed fiscal analysis on the bill was raised as a concern during the House floor vote, as a legislative fiscal office analysis simply determined HB 4051 has a “minimal expenditure impact” on affected state agencies.
Rep. Shelly Boshart-Davis, R-Albany, explained that the Oregon Department of Agriculture — which oversees commodity commissions — has one fewer commission to administer after the Oregon Orchardgrass Commission was dissolved last year.
Adding an Oregon Hemp Commission would bring the number of commissions back up to 23 without significant costs to ODA, she said.
“They said they’d be able to absorb that, going from 22 to 23, therefore there is no fiscal,” Boshart-Davis said.