Bill offers promise for hemp advocates

Oregon Senate Bill 676, legalizing the growth, possession and trade of industrial hemp, passed the House on July 2 and is expected to be signed Tuesday.

Uses for hemp span a range of common practical applications including textiles, paper, building products, food, fuel oils and several others. Passing the industrial hemp bill is a step toward Oregon producing and manufacturing these products.

Alfred Hanan, owner of the Hemporium in Ashland, expects to see an immediate positive effect to his business as a result of the state's acceptance of hemp.

"It brings hemp back into the mainstream," Hanan said. "That never should have gone away.

There are no administrative processes in effect for potential farmers yet, but there will be licensing requirements, said Melanie Barniskis of the Southern Oregon chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Industrial hemp's levels of THC, the chemical behind the "high" produced by illegal marijuana, are very low, according to Barniskis.

Industrial hemp plants are almost indistinguishable from the cannabis plants grown for medical marijuana use, Barniskis said, adding that only a trained eye would be able to tell a difference.

"Hemp and cannabis have always been lumped together as the same plant, which is understandable — they look the same," she said.

Sustainability and yields are other positives advocates like Southern Oregon NORML and Hanan associate with the passage of the bill. Hemp can be replanted in the same soil without degrading it, said Hanan.

The same acreage of hemp produces four times the yield as timber, and it doesn't take 30 years to grow back to be harvested again, Hanan and Barniskis said.

Hemp products will become more affordable as shipping and import costs are eliminated, with hemp textiles coming from China and many hemp products coming in from Canada, Hanan said.

Southern Oregon NORML does have concerns about the cross pollination of industrial hemp with medical marijuana plants and a resulting reduction in the effectiveness of medical marijuana, said Barniskis.

There is precedent for having two similar crops existing in the same state, with canola being an example, Barniskis said of measures that need to be taken to protect both types of crops.

"I hope there's capital to make it happen. There are plenty of empty buildings for manufacturing," Barniskis said.

The Hemporium is located at 296 E. Main St. in Ashland and offers a range of hemp products and information on the uses for the plant.

Southern Oregon NORML can be reached at 779-1448 and is located at 332 W. Sixth St. in Medford.

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