November 4, 2009 – Earlier this year, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 676, which legalized growing industrial hemp statewide, but the product still is illegal at the federal level, hempleaving would-be hemp farmers in a sort of limbo.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) was one of SB 676’s two sponsors. He said that the bill “gives a framework and the process and procedure” to allow industrial hemp to be grown and regulated under the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA).

“We’re looking at a sustainable, close-knit operation that would allow for industrial hemp to be grown in this state, processed in this state and actually be able to be sold in the state and around the world,” he said.

Prozanski added that since SB 676 passed, he has been contacted by many farmers expressing interest in growing hemp. He has pledged to work with other officials to try and change the federal policy, which he said is “very likely” to happen.

Josephine County (Illinois) Commissioner Dave Toler said that he also received many calls during the just-passed summer about industrial hemp after SB 676 was signed into law by Gov. Kulongoski. But Toler said that he is uncertain of the crop’s viability in Josephine County, where prime soil is limited.

“This is mostly a forest county,” Toler said.

Most of the county’s best soil is located in the flood plains of the Rogue, Applegate and Illinois rivers, Toler said, but much of the rest is largely “marginal.” As such, he said that his efforts to expand agriculture in the county have been focused on crops like canola, which grow well on marginal soils.

Prozanski stated that, “We’re trying to get back to the future in allowing what farmers used to be able to do in this country. It should be a no-brainer.”

American history is filled with examples of farmers being able to harvest hemp as a crop — and the U.S. government allowing, and even encouraging, the practice.

In some U.S. colonies, residents were required to grow hemp, Prozanski said. Its growth was subsidized by the government during World War II under a “Hemp For Victory” program, he said, and farmers in the Midwest were paid to harvest the crop because the nation lost The Philippines as a source.

Prozanski said that hemp was grown on commercial farms in the United States throughout the 1950s. However, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency was formed in the early 1970s, and hemp began to be prohibited as a stand-alone agricultural crop, he said.

Illinois Valley resident and hemp activist Waves Forest is among those applauding Oregon’s move toward allowing the crop to be produced. He said that hemp enabled citizens to be much more self-sufficient than they have been since the federal government made it illegal.

“The very fact that the economy is in such shambles essentially flows from hemp prohibition,” Forest said.

He continued, “It was the centerpiece of Nature’s plan to meet all human needs. It did so very well for a long time. As it dropped early in the last century, everything got scarcer. It was easier to force people into the customer base of various resource monopolists because a raw material that you could grow in your backyard became prohibited.”

Forest points out that hemp was “an acceptable currency for a very long time” and that “You could pay taxes with it in the early stages of this country.”

Forest said that residents throughout Josephine County have been working to rebuild the soils on their properties. He added that hemp can grow well on marginal lands.

“It’s managed to find its way into many different climates and ecosystems,” he said.

Prozanski said that aside from farmers, the forestry industry could benefit from the legalization of industrial hemp. It can be blended with wood fibers to create composite materials, he noted.

“There are multiple advantages for seeing industrial hemp being reintroduced as a commodity in the state,” Prozanski said. “It has so many different applications, from fiber to seed, to be used in so many different commodities. It will be huge.”

As an example, Prozanski cites Living Harvest, a “reputable” Portland company that sells hemp-based food products. They include a beverage similar to soy milk made with hemp seed, and hemp-based ice cream.

Living Harvest currently has annual sales of up to $8 million, but projects that it could grow to $100 million within the next five years, Prozanski said. The company has committed to buying all its hemp from within Oregon, Prozanski said, which would provide huge benefits to the state’s economy.

“They are very anxious and eager to be able to have a domestic hemp seed source, instead of importing hemp seed from Canada,” according to Prozanski. Source.

ODA has information on its Website regarding the process of legalizing industrial hemp. For more information, visit here.

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