SALEM — A proposal to create a commodity commission for hemp is making headway in Oregon after three earlier attempts failed to pass muster during previous legislative sessions.
House Bill 2284 would assess hemp farmers up to 1.5% of the crop’s value to raise money for promotions and research.
Because the crop was only recently legalized at the federal level through the 2018 Farm Bill, farmers have scant science-based information about the most effective growing methods, according to proponents.
Research would also delve into encouraging coexistence among different forms of cannabis, which is often grown for unseeded female flowers and is thus vulnerable to cross-pollination.
“We all know there is a lot of research the industry still needs,” said Courtney Moran, president of the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association.
“We see House Bill 2284 as an incredible opportunity for the Oregon hemp program, putting hemp on the same level playing field as other agricultural commodities in our state,” she said during a recent legislative hearing.
Oregon currently has 23 other commodity commissions for crop, livestock and fish products, which are overseen by the state’s Department of Agriculture.
Moran said the hemp industry is trying to obtain one-time federal funding, which would minimize the need for assessing farmers during the commission’s first operating year in 2022.
The original seven members of the hemp commission would be appointed by the ODA’s director, with a majority of them having grown the crop for at least three years.
These temporary members would then establish the rules for the commission, such as the number of permanent members and their geographic representation.
The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery will decide on May 19 whether to refer HB 2284 for a vote on the Senate floor. The bill was unanimously passed by the House last month.
Hemp prices have steeply fallen due to an oversupply of the crop intended for the CBD market, which has suffered due to uncertainty about how the compound will be regulated.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is touted for its anti-inflammatory properties and other health benefits but the federal government hasn’t yet decided whether to approve it as a dietary supplement.
The extraction process for CBD has also run into federal limits on THC — the psychoactive substance in marijuana — that the hemp industry is challenging in court as unworkable.
These struggles indicate it’s probably the wrong time to create a commodity commission in Oregon, though the concept itself is sound, said Seth Crawford, a hemp seed breeder from Independence, Ore., in written testimony.
Commodity commissions are “much easier to establish than they are to disband, and I would hate to see Oregon farmers paying assessments to a commission without clear federal guidance established,” he said.
Though the hemp commission proposal hasn’t encountered much opposition in 2021, neither did earlier versions of the bill that ultimately failed.
The concept was first introduced and unanimously approved by a House committee in 2017 but died in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, which is the same fate that met a similar bill in 2019.
In 2020, a hemp commission bill was approved by the full House and was headed for a vote on the Senate floor when the legislative session shut down over controversial climate legislation.
Hemp has attracted some negative attention in the Legislature this year due to a derivative compound known as Delta-8, which has raised concerns for going unregulated despite being psychoactive.
Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, said a hemp commission should be composed of “reputable growers” who would help law enforcement clamp down on such products.
“Our hemp industry needs to get on board with fully regulating this byproduct of this supposed just agricultural product or they will lose all their support that they used to once enjoy,” he said.