Alaska Legislature passes bill to legalize industrial hemp

Dried hemp seeds, still on the plan (Creative Commons image courtesy D-Kuru/Wikimedia Commons)

A bill to legalize the production of industrial hemp has made its way through both the Alaska House and Senate and now awaits the governor’s pen.

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If signed into law, the legislation will allow registered participants into a pilot project to grow hemp. That’s the name typically used for varieties of the cannabis plant that produce useful fiber, but almost no THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana that alters people’s mental state.

Palmer Republican Sen. Shelley Hughes introduced the bill more than a year ago after reworking legislation originally written by former Sen. Johnny Ellis.

“It was time to remove hemp from the marijuana statutes,” Hughes said. “There’s no psychoactive impact from hemp. If you were to smoke acres and acres and acres of hemp, all you would get would be a sore throat and a cough.”

Hughes said she was approached by local farmers in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough looking to grow hemp, which can be used as feed and bedding for livestock, as well as material to clean up oil spills.

Ember Haynes is one of those interested in growing hemp to supplement livestock feed. But Haynes and her husband also want to grow it for use in products they sell through their Talkeetna-based Silverbear Sundries. So far, they have had to import hemp from the Lower 48 to add to their balms, salves and other natural body products.

“I just want to use Alaska hemp,” Haynes said. “It’s been frustrating for us, just because our business is entirely made up of products that we wild-craft or grow ourselves. And so the hemp seed oil, that would just change everything for us, to have it completely Alaska-grown and made herbs and plants in our products.”

Hughes said she hopes that a pilot project will give the Division of Agriculture a starting point to foster a wider hemp industry in the future.

Even if the bill is signed into law soon, Hughes said it’s unclear if regulations will be written in time for this year’s growing season. She said it is more likely that farmers could be growing industrial hemp in Alaska in 2019.