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Idaho hemp legislation is a step backward

Idaho hemp legislation is a step backward

Wayne Hoffman
April 5, 2019
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April 5, 2019

Last year President Donald Trump signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 into law. That Farm Bill allowed states to grow hemp. With that, I only imagined our state politicians would loosen Idaho’s stringent anti-cannabis laws. When it comes to politicians, I need to learn to be more imaginative.

A few weeks ago, the Idaho House overwhelmingly passed a bill to allow the farming and cultivation of hemp. The measure would have allowed the use of cannabidiol oil for medicinal purposes. But at the insistence of some in law enforcement, lawmakers retreated and instead advanced legislation that would keep hemp illegal yet allow it to be transported through Idaho — in a way that makes it seem as if we'd have a possible influx of trucks hauling plutonium laced with meth.

The legislation, which is expected to pass the Legislature as of my writing, still doesn’t allow farmers to grow or process hemp, even though doing so is legal elsewhere under both state and federal law. Should it become law, the statute would only allow hemp to be transported through Idaho in a highly regulated manner. Transportation can only occur so long as truck drivers get a special permit from the state of Idaho. The 2018 federal Farm Bill doesn’t require states to create a transportation permitting process, and it appears that no other state has a similar requirement or permitting process for hemp transportation.  

The proposal doesn’t outline how much a permit to transport hemp would cost, whether it will be $10 or $10,000. The law also says truckers will face civil penalties if they fail to get a hemp hauling permit. However, apart from a provision that calls for the seizure of unpermitted hemp trucks, the bill offers no clues or direction regarding what additional penalties hemp haulers could face.

Additionally, the Idaho measure would allow the Idaho State Police to set up hemp check stations around the state to watch for illicit hemp transportation. “No person shall proceed past or travel through any established check station at a port of entry or other location” set up to patrol for illicit hemp, the new legislation says. The bill, which would empower law enforcement officials to search vehicles for hemp, does not appear to distinguish between hemp straight from the farm in plant form or hemp that has been processed into products such as soaps, shampoos, or food products. In sum: This possible new law potentially exposes others, not just hemp plant haulers, to sanctions.

Though hemp might look a lot like its intoxicating cannabis cousin, hemp cannot be used to get high. Keeping hemp illegal and setting up a regulatory regime of permits and checkpoints for it makes Idaho look ridiculous among other states that are eliminating the last vestiges of hemp’s mistaken inclusion in the War on Drugs.

More importantly, the new measure would continue to hurt farmers who still won’t be able to benefit from the end of federal hemp prohibition. It harms interstate truck drivers who will no doubt be shocked to learn that their cargo requires special permission and documentation to traverse the state. And it hurts Idaho medical patients who face the same regulatory ambiguity and restrictions as they always have regarding CBD oil. It is a frustrating outcome for what should have been an easy policy win for our state and its people.

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