By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — Efforts to diversify Wyoming’s economy got a major boost with the stroke of Gov. Mark Gordon’s pen Wednesday.
Gordon affixed his signature to House Bill 171, sponsored by Rep. Bunky Loucks, R-Casper, which puts Wyoming on a viable path for industrial hemp production. Passed in the last week of the session, the bill allows for hemp to be grown in the state, along with the production and sale of hemp-based products, including ones containing CBD oil.
Loucks said the ability to grow hemp will be an immense benefit to the agricultural community in Wyoming. The growing global market for industrial hemp, and the potential for the state to become a manufacturing hub for hemp-derived products, could provide growers with a cash crop that has a stable demand.
“We, as a state, for years now we’ve talked about wanting to bring industry here, we want to bring manufacturing here. We’re not going to be able to bring industry in here because we don’t have the population base,” Loucks said. “Hemp production is going to be a niche market. And these (producers) are going to be able to co-op together and work together to get fair price for their crops, and they’ll be able to succeed.”
Christine Bekes, executive director of the Powell Economic Partnership, has been a major proponent of Wyoming moving to the forefront of industrial hemp production. She said the opportunity for the state to lead the way in hemp growth – as well as the manufacturing of hemp products, including rope, animal feed, plastics and more – is something that could be a major boon to Wyoming’s economy.
“The impacts are tremendous. Our ag community needs this opportunity for diversification and lift,” Bekes said. “There’s a lot of private investment dollars coming into the state, both from a crop perspective and also from a value-add perspective. And that’s what most interests me. We can grow a lot of different things, but if we’re not getting it into market and not processing it, we’re not capturing the full value.”
The Wyoming Legislature attempted to kickstart a hemp industry in the state when it passed House Bill 230, also sponsored by Loucks, in 2017. But that bill failed to make an impact, in large part because it didn’t include appropriations to help the state test hemp to ensure it didn’t have significant amounts of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.
While hemp is a cannabis plant, unlike marijuana, it only has trace amounts of THC. HB 171 includes a $120,000 appropriation to help set up a state process for testing the levels of THC present in hemp produced in Wyoming.
The bill also sets the limit for the amount of THC that can be in hemp grown in Wyoming at 0.3 percent, the same limit in last year’s federal Farm Bill that declassified hemp as a Schedule One drug and allowed for industrial production.
Wyoming still needs to wait on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop its own guidelines for hemp production and testing before it can begin to develop state rules and testing procedures.
Brett Moline, a lobbyist with the Wyoming Farm Bureau, said due to the time constraints and the need for direction from the federal level, Wyoming farms most likely won’t be putting any hemp seeds in the ground until next year.
He echoed others when he said a major factor in hemp becoming a major success for the state’s ag community is whether the state can attract production facilities.
“You give Wyoming farmers the opportunity, we can grow the best in the world,” Moline said. “If we can get the manufacturing, and if we can get the whole chain going and have some market certainty, I think hemp will take off beautifully.”