May 20, 2019

Washington State Department of Agriculture to Begin Processing Commercial Hemp Licenses


Washington State Governor Jay Inslee has signed House Bill 1401 into law. As explained by the state Department of Agriculture (WSDA), the new law, “will replace the industrial hemp research pilot program begun in 2016 with a new commercial hemp licensing and regulatory program.”

Unlike in other states – such as Oregon, Colorado, and Kentucky – Washington’s previous approach to regulating industrial hemp did not provide commercial opportunities for farmers and manufacturers. As a result, the number of acres on which industrial hemp was grown in Washington last year was relatively small at 142, according to Vote Hemp’s 2018 Crop Report. A March report from the Capital Press notes that the entirety of that crop was cultivated by a single entity, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

This is in contrast to the situation in Washington’s neighbor to the south, Oregon, where almost 8,000 acres were devoted to hemp farming in 2018, with numerous licensed cannabis producers switching or supplementing their original crops with industrial hemp plots.

Washington’s new law may eventually lead to an expansion in hemp farming similar to what has occurred in Oregon, which could put a dent in cannabis production in the state. According to the WSDA, “three significant changes take effect immediately under the new state bill:

●    Eliminates the requirement for a four-mile buffer zone between licensed hemp producers and licensed marijuana producers.

●    Allows licensed growers to acquire hemp seed directly, including from other states, without needing to use a Drug Enforcement Administration permit from WSDA.

●    Allows extraction of CBD from hemp for use in products such as oils, lotions, and tinctures. However, the federal Food and Drug Administration continues to prohibit adding CBD to food or beverages.”

However, new farmers – including licensed cannabis growers, who were effectively prohibited by prior rules from growing hemp alongside their cannabis operations – will not be able to take advantage of the changes to state law immediately. The WSDA update adds that the department will begin drafting rules for the new program and the plan will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) once mechanisms to do so are in place.

Also according to WSDA, “Currently licensed hemp growers and processors will now operate under the provisions of the new law. And WSDA has now begun processing license applications that the agency had put on hold.”

In response to inquiries from Cannabis Benchmarks, WSDA provided the following statement: “WSDA had 10 applications on hold that we have already started processing. We do anticipate processing those licenses in time for this year’s growing season. WSDA does not anticipate having a commercial hemp program until late fall that would take effect when the pilot program is repealed on January 1, 2020.” Based on that statement, it does not appear that licensed cannabis producers – or any new entities apart from the 10 applicants that were previously on hold – will be able to take part in Washington State’s industrial hemp market until next year’s growing season.