Proposed Bill in Oregon Threatens Hemp Production

Proposed legislation in Oregon is addressing fears that hemp production in the state could impact marijuana plants by requiring a minimum buffer zone between areas zoned for cultivation of industrial hemp and marijuana grow sites.

Marijuana advocates fear cross-pollination with low-tetrahydrocannabinol hemp, leading state legislators to take up the issue. But hemp advocates say it is a two-way street, and the current bill unfairly singles out hemp farmers while doing  little to remedy broader concerns of cross-pollination on both sides of the aisle.

“The whole conversation in the media has been relating to cross pollination between hemp and marijuana, but a second part to that conversation is that marijuana can also cross pollinate with hemp,” Courtney N. Moran, LL.M., an Oregon attorney who advocates for agricultural industrial hemp, told MJINews.

“Industrial hemp growers are concerned if a high-THC strain [pollinates their plant] it could affect its THC concentration,” Moran said. Industrial hemp must contain less than 0.3 percent THC to distinguish it from marijuana, which contains much higher THC levels, according to state law.

Of the 13 licenses issued to hemp growers in the state, eight have already begun production, a spokesperson with the Oregon Department of Agriculture confirmed with MJINews. A new bill, House Bill 2668, proposes a 5-mile buffer zone between hemp and marijuana farms, which critics say would cause many hemp growers to cease operations.

The proposed bill would also prohibit the governing bodies of Douglas, Josephine and Jackson Counties—all in southern Oregon—from designating areas zoned for cultivation and growing of industrial hemp until January 1, 2021.

Josephine County Commissioner Cherryl Walker has a hemp farm within the county. According to Walker, the three counties, of 36 in the state, where hemp could be prohibited are also the best for growing the cannabis plant.

“These areas have very warm days and good access to water,” Walker said. “They are the counties where cannabis can be grown outdoors. In other areas in the state, cannabis must be grown indoors to avoid the rain, which causes mold.”

However, there are ways to address production of both forms of cannabis without limiting one grower or another, Walker added. “They can coexist. It’s just going to take responsible growers.”

Moran recently testified that the buffer zone should be 3.5 miles, just .4 miles more than the buffer zone between hemp farmers in Canada, which has been successfully producing hemp for over a decade. “I think 5 miles is unnecessarily restrictive,” Moran said. “Because hemp cultivators in Canada do not want cross-pollination of their plants they have a maximum isolation of 3.1 miles and they don’t seem to be having any issue.”

Moran proposed the buffer zone of 3.5 miles only be in place if male cannabis plants are being grown outside. If only female plants are being grown outside, then a buffer zone is not necessary. “If you’re a responsible farmer, then cross pollination won’t happen,” she said. “But people are afraid. No industrial hemp farmer has any intention of impacting medical marijuana plants. Everyone is concerned about patients and making sure they have access to medicine.”

Lawmakers should also consider how to mitigate the risk recreational marijuana might pose to cannabis farmers, Moran said, also noting that starting July 1 Oregonians 21 and over will be able to grow up to four plants on their property. “If the true concern is cross pollination they need to think about the fact that not every Oregon household has an experienced cannabis grower. Maybe someone will accidentally grow a male outside [thinking it is a female], and then the male cross pollinates with a medical marijuana or hemp farm nearby.”

The bill currently sits in the House Committee as legislators will continue to discuss proposed amendments.

“We really need to be focused on what is best for the plant—not what is good for one use or another,” Moran said in regards to evaluating amendments to the bill. “The genus Cannabis is an invaluable renewable resource, and we need to think about how we can use this to help everyone.”

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