Northwest hemp farmers scored a major victory last week with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized the crop and defined it as an “agricultural commodity.”

The legislation removes hemp from the list of federally controlled substances, including products made with derivative extracts such as cannabinoid, or CBD, oil.

Hemp is closely related to marijuana, but unlike pot it contains less than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component that gets users high. CBD oils promote a host of health benefits, from pain relief to preventing seizures and lowering anxiety. Hemp can also be used to make fiber, plastic and a building material known as “hempcrete” — a mixture of hemp stalks and lime.

Courtney Moran, a Portland attorney and president of the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association, said the bill greatly clarifies hemp’s legal status at the federal level, allowing farmers to sign up for crop insurance, work with banks and do business across state lines.

“It’s very exciting that Congress has realized the economic and agricultural potential for hemp,” Moran said. “It’s an incredible day for cannabis, and for all farmers worldwide.”

Moran spent two years working with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s office on legislation. The law also provides USDA oversight and funding for hemp research, and allows states and tribes to become the primary regulators of hemp production.

Oregon established its Industrial Hemp Program, overseen by the state Department of Agriculture, in 2016. By the end of the year, 70 growers and 53 handlers had registered with ODA. The program has since grown more than six-fold, with 582 growers and 212 handlers.

Moran said she sees the industry growing significantly more under the Hemp Farming Act moving forward.

“I think it’s an incredible impact,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was the bill’s chief sponsor. On Tuesday, McConnell tweeted that, “At a time when farm income is down and growers are struggling, industrial hemp is a bright spot of agriculture’s future.”

Sens. Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Oregon Democrats, were also vocal supporters of legalizing industrial hemp.

“For too long, the outrageous and outdated ban on growing hemp has hamstrung farmers in Oregon and across the country,” Wyden said in a statement. “Hemp products are made in America, sold in America and consumed in America. Now, hemp will be able to be legally grown in America, to the economic benefit of consumers and farmers in Oregon and nationwide.”

Estimates show the total retail value of all hemp products in the U.S. in 2017 was $820 million in 2017, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, a national program funded in part by USDA Rural Development.

A report by New Frontier Data, which studies cannabis markets, also shows the U.S. CBD sales grew by nearly 40 percent in 2017, reaching $367 million.

Moran said legalization could spur growth in even higher-value uses of hemp, such as paper, fiber and construction.

“It’s really time we start building our national infrastructure in all aspects of the industry for what this plant can do,” she said.

-George Plaven | Capital Press