Despite the state’s great strides forward in recreational and medicinal cannabis legalization, establishing a regulated commercial hemp program in Washington has been a bit of a non-starter, despite the general popularity of hemp. Last year, the Washington State House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 6206, which legalized hemp cultivation for research. Gov. Inslee vetoed that bill, but the legislature overrode his veto with a two-thirds vote, making it law.
“Allowing licensed I-502 processors to process industrial hemp would constitute a substantial departure from current law, and would greatly expand the scope of Washington’s hemp industry.”
According to SB-6206, the bill describes hemp as “an agricultural product that may be grown, produced, possessed, processed and exchanged in the state solely and exclusively as part of an industrial hemp research program supervised by the department. Processing any part of industrial hemp, except seed, as food, extract, oil, cake, concentrate, resin or other preparation for topical use, oral consumption or inhalation by humans is prohibited.”
The bill also tasked Washington State University (WSU) with researching the feasibility and desirability of industrial hemp production in Washington—the deadline for WSU to report its findings was January 14, 2017. WSU was asked to: 1.) Develop research programs on production systems for cannabis and industrial hemp; 2.) Evaluate market potential and profitability of cannabis production; 3.) Examine individual and social costs associated with increased recreational cannabis use; 4.) Provide production-related information in support of cannabis cultivation; 5.) Facilitate student internship and other academic opportunities in the area of cannabis production; and 6.) Research the health effects of cannabis and the efficacy of cannabis used for medical purposes.
Following this research, the Washington State Department of Agriculture implemented rules to establish the Industrial Hemp Research Pilot (IHRP), which is a program to further study the cultivation and commercial viability of an industrial hemp industry in Washington. Applications for licenses under the IHRP are currently being accepted, although hemp cultivation pursuant to the pilot program is to be conducted solely for research purposes and not for commercial purposes. Currently, there are only six licensed participants in the IHRP.
But that number could change, given the recent passage of Senate Bill 5131, which contains a provision stating the following: “The department and the state liquor and cannabis board must collaboratively study the feasibility and practicality of implementing a legislatively authorized regulatory framework allowing industrial hemp produced in accordance with the requirements of this chapter to be sold or transferred to marijuana processors, licensed under chapter 69.50 RCW, for processing into industrial hemp or marijuana products to be sold at retail for human consumption.”
Allowing licensed I-502 processors to process industrial hemp would constitute a substantial departure from current law, and would greatly expand the scope of Washington’s hemp industry, making the commercial cultivation, processing and sale of locally grown hemp products feasible for the first time. The success of the IHRP will likely factor into the state’s feasibility and practicality analysis, and we’ll be anxiously waiting to see if this is the tipping point for commercialized industrial hemp production in Washington State.