Hemp could be Uinta County’s cash crop

Many eyes are on House Bill 171, which would legalize and regulate hemp in Wyoming. Mandy Flint with the Bridger Valley Hemp Association said she thinks it could do wonders for agriculture in Uinta County. (COURTESY PHOTO)

EVANSTON — Among the nearly 500 bills introduced during the 2019 general session of the Wyoming Legislature is House Bill 171, “Hemp and cannabidiol regulation,” which would allow for the production and use of hemp and hemp products throughout the state. The bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee and to the full House for consideration on Thursday, Jan. 24, with a unanimous 9-0 vote. 

Mandy Flint with the Bridger Valley Hemp Association is thrilled with the vote of the committee and the possibility that the production and use of hemp may soon be legal throughout the state. She said she sees hemp as a crop that could breathe new life into family farms across Wyoming, especially in the southwest corner of the state. 

Flint said it’s important for people to understand the difference between hemp and marijuana. Marijuana is distinguished by the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance responsible for getting people high. While they belong to the same plant family, Cannabis, there are distinct differences between the two, most significantly THC content. Marijuana is primarily cultivated for either recreational or medicinal uses, can have THC levels of up to 40 percent and is illegal at the federal level, although it has been legalized both medicinally and recreationally in several states. 

Hemp, on the other hand, is grown for industrial purposes, including fabrics, textiles, rope, paper, insulation, food products, medicinal uses and even biofuels and supercapacitor energy storage, according to a 2018 Forbes report. Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, which is growing in popularity for treatment of a host of maladies and general health uses, is also derived from hemp. 

The bill working its way through the legislature would mandate that any hemp or hemp products contain less than 0.3 percent THC, making it virtually impossible for anyone to get high from those products. In spite of the multiple uses for hemp, the plant has until recently been a controlled substance at the federal level. However, the latest Farm Bill passed by the federal government included a provision that removed industrial hemp as a controlled substance, opening the doors to expansion of the growth of hemp. 

It turns out Wyoming may be the ideal place for that expansion to occur. The hemp plant grows best in cooler regions and at higher altitudes. Flint said the growing season runs from an April planting to a September harvest, and it is an extremely hearty and non-temperamental crop that also serves to amend soils of toxins that could be detrimental to other types of crops. 

Flint said she hopes Wyoming will be able to cash in on the rising popularity of hemp products. Forbes reports the CBD market in the United States is expected to reach $450 million annually by 2020, while the hemp market in China, the current world leader in hemp production, could reach $14.5 billion by 2022. 

Among the 23 co-sponsors of HB 171 is Rep. Danny Eyre, R-Lyman. Flint said several Wyoming legislators have been actively involved in working on the legislation for years and nearly everyone has expressed support for the bill, including Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston. 

Reached by email, Schuler said she has researched hemp and CBD and believes it can be good for Wyoming farmers and ranchers due not only to the demand for multiple uses, but also for cleaning contaminants and toxins from the soil as a rotation crop. Schuler also touted the medicinal uses of CBD.

“There are many people who are finding that CBD products help them with pain, anxiety and a number of other ailments,” Schuler said. “If we can offer another option for pain relief, maybe we can get ahead of the growing number of opioid addicts in our state and country.” 

Eyre did not respond to an email request for comment by press time. 

There are still potential hurdles to be overcome. Federal legislation requires hemp products to be tested at the state level to ensure THC content is below the 0.3 percent threshold, and Flint said it’s uncertain whether the legislature would allow an existing lab to conduct that testing or if an entirely new lab department would need to be created, which could significantly slow down the process and cost substantially more money.

As of now, the bill appropriates $120,000 to administer a state-run hemp production program including grower licensing, product testing and more. She said supporters are also keeping an eye on the legislation to make sure it’s crafted to benefit local communities first and foremost. 

“This could really revitalize family farms,” she said. 

Ideally, Flint said the program would be ready to accept applications from growers by spring. She said the Bridger Valley Hemp Association aims to help farmers when the time comes to submit applications and with every step in the process.

“We can help with everything,” she said, “from information on soil and planting, to the testing process, to connecting growers with buyers. There’s demand for hemp and growers to ship around the country.

“It works in Wyoming’s favor to recognize hemp isn’t dangerous,” Flint continued, “and to have CBD and hemp legalized, not just allowing it but aggressively working with it.” 

The nonprofit Bridger Valley Hemp Association is still organizing, she said, and plans to have a public meeting in Evanston from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Uinta County Library conference room. Flint said several people will be on hand at the meeting to answer questions and discuss possibilities, including Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Area 5 Director Shaun Sims, who is also heavily involved with the state agricultural board.

“People are ready, informed, educated and excited,” she said. “This could be a breath of fresh air back to the area.”

A bill to legalize medicinal marijuana use, House Bill 278, has been introduced as well, although at this time it has not been assigned to any committee and its fate is unclear. A poll conducted late in 2018 by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center at the University of Wyoming found that a full 70 percent of respondents supported the legalization of medicinal marijuana, which is now legal in 30 states and Washington, D.C. Wyoming is one of only 15 states in which all marijuana usage is still illegal — five other states have decriminalized the use and possession of marijuana.

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