Adam Cutlip waters hemp plants in one of the eight greenhouses on the CBDRx farm in Pueblo, Colorado on June 9, 2015. CBDRx calls itself the nation's largest farm for growing hemp specially bred with high levels of cannabinoids. (Brent Lewis, The Denver Post)

Oregon officials say hemp program isn’t working out as anticipated

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A state agriculture official said Tuesday that Oregon’s hemp industry is not turning out the way lawmakers envisioned, so the department will recommend changes to the law regulating how it is grown.

The law authorizing industrial hemp production in Oregon was written to regulate it as an agricultural crop, with large fields of densely planted hemp grown for fiber, seed and oil, said Lindsay Eng, who oversees the hemp program for the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Instead, the nine operations inspected by the department this year seem more interested in producing compounds known as CBDs, which don’t get people high, but are believed to have medical benefits. They are also found in marijuana.

As a result, Eng says the current law does not work well to regulate growers, who are growing small plots, sometimes in greenhouses, with the emphasis on producing buds that contain the CBDs.

“I imagine there will be some changes in the next year or two,” she said. “We definitely will have some recommendations to either shore up definitions or the intent. There is not a whole lot we can do through rulemaking.”

Hemp is related to marijuana, but it contains very low levels of the compound known as THC, which gets people high. It has a long history as an agricultural crop, but it was outlawed along with marijuana in 1937. The Legislature authorized hemp production in 2009, but the first permits were not issued until this year.

Meanwhile, the department suspended issuing new hemp permits on Monday. Eng said it was largely because of practical considerations. No one could start a crop this year, and the current three-year permits change to one-year permits starting Jan. 1.

The department has issued 13 permits for growing industrial hemp around the state, but only nine growers actually produced a crop. Tests have shown they all met the standards for low values of THC, but few approached the minimum acreage set out in the law of 2.5 acres, Eng said.