Washington’s hemp industry has started slowly; less than a year old, it’s already at a crossroads
Don Jenkins/Capital Press
An entrepreneur at the forefront of establishing hemp in Washington says that he has harvested his first crop but doesn’t know what he’ll do with it, underlining the unpredictable future for sober cannabis in the state.
Cory Sharp said Oct. 9 that he figures he can store for a couple of years an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 pounds of hemp grain. He said he’s trying to line up financing for a plant to make hemp-seed oil, sold as a nutritional supplement.
“It’ll take millions to do it right,” he said. “It’s a lot of capital, and there are a lot of hurdles.”
Sharp, owner of HempLogic, oversaw last spring the first planting of hemp under rules set down by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. The rules carefully followed federal limits on cultivating hemp plants, which remain a federally controlled substance, even in states with legal recreational marijuana.
The grain harvested in Grant County by Sharp are viable seeds, so they can’t cross state lines. They must be processed in Washington.
“We’re out of harvest and trying to find homes for things,” Sharp said. “We have to find a market before we do anything.”
WSDA licenses hemp growers and processors, monitors the seed supply and inspects farms. So far, the state has issued six hemp licenses, including one to a Washington State University researcher and two to Indian tribes. Meanwhile, other states, such as Oregon, Colorado, Kentucky and Tennessee, have each licensed dozens of hemp farmers or processors.
WSDA says about 180 acres of hemp were planted this year. Once launched this year, the program was to be sustained by fees. But the fees have raised approximately $8,100, while WSDA has spent $146,000 on the program. WSDA says it’s not feasible to expect fees to support the program and will ask lawmakers to appropriate $287,000 from the general fund to continue it.
Sharp and hemp consultant Joy Beckerman said high fees are a problem and so are the restrictions.
Beckerman said she has a long list of proposals for changing WSDA’s program.
“It’s at a crossroads,” she said. “We need to remove some of these barriers. … We need more seeds in the ground.”
One of Beckerman’s proposals is to make sure a marijuana grow can’t push aside a hemp farm. Under a current state rule, hemp can’t be grown within 4 miles of marijuana. If a marijuana grow moves in the area, the hemp farm must go.
“I, unfortunately, have to tell people, ‘Beware, don’t go buy a farm,’ ” Beckerman said.
Although Congress authorized state-supervised hemp cultivation and marketing in the 2014 Farm Bill, the crop still faces regulatory uncertainty. Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and three other senators sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June saying they were concerned that people involved in hemp programs are being denied banking services.
“This next year is going to be interesting,” Sharp said.
“I don’t have a rosy picture for you,” he said. “Being a pioneer is never easy.”