By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily
When Gov. Mark Gordon signed HB 171 into law Wednesday, he made it legal to for farmers to grow industrial hemp and sell hemp-based products like CBD oil in Wyoming.
But it likely will be a while before farmers will harvest the first hemp crop from the Cowboy State’s soil, given all that’s required to start the regulatory process.
Derek Grant, public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, said Friday that he would not speculate on when the program would begin. It might be this fall, but perhaps later, he said. “We’re going to move as quickly as we can,” Grant said. “We’re moving with a sense of urgency with a good dose of caution.”
Approval of HB171 comes after changes occurred in the 2018 USDA farm bill to remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. The latest farm bill considers the plant as a regulated agriculture crop.
Hemp is a plant that can be used to make paper, clothing, textiles, food, shoes, building materials and thousands of other products. The plant is part of the cannabis family but contains only trace amounts of THC – a psychoactive chemical – compared to marijuana.
HB 171 requires farmers to apply to the Agriculture Department for a license to grow hemp. The department is working to develop the required forms. It’s also completing a plan detailing the operation of regulatory program. The plan must be sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture within 30 days after the bill’s signing.
The law provides $315,000 to the state Agriculture Department to buy equipment that will test the concentration of THC in hemp to make sure it stays below 0.3 percent. A higher THC content means the hemp will be categorized as marijuana. The bill also provides $120,000 to hire and train people to get the program going.
Rep. Bucky Loucks, R-Casper, sponsored the bill, which won strong approval in both the Senate and House this legislative session. Supporters say it will help Wyoming’s farmers develop a cash crop and diversify the state’s economy.
“I think anytime we can have more opportunity to diversify and find more products in Wyoming is a good thing,” Grant said. “We just want to make sure we do it right.”
He urges farmers to check the department’s web page for more information.
Ron Rabou and his family operate an organic wheat farm near Albin in Laramie County. Rabou, a long-time supporter of growing industrial hemp, said he is excited about the new law.
“The big positive here is that we have a bill now that will provide massive opportunities for Wyoming ag producers,” he said.
But he cautions that farmers must make sure there are markets to buy the crop. Farmers who produce hemp must become experts regarding market demands, he said.
“This is not going to be where all of a sudden, we can start growing hemp and it will make immediate profitability,” he said. “In my opinion, it will take years for those markets to develop.”
“I think it’s great to be excited. But just because this bill got passed, doesn’t mean (there will be) an immediate effect on the ag economy,” Rabou continued. “Be careful about jumping in with both feet at this point. Unless you have a market where you can sell your crop, having all the product in the world will not make a difference.”
For more information on the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s hemp program, visit the department’s website at: https://wyoagric.state.wy.us/
For more information on Rabou Farms, visit its website at: http://www.raboufarms.com/