WE'VE HEARD plenty about weed in Oregon. How's the hemp scene?

THE OREGON HEMP scene is coming on strong, although you may not have noticed with all the ink being spilled on the state's new pot laws. However, we do have another new cannabis law: House Bill 4060, regarding Oregon hemp.

The recent history of Oregon hemp is mostly sad. The state legalized hemp farming in 2009, but the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) did not roll out the program until the feds eased up on hemp in the 2014 Farm Bill. Finally, in early 2015, ODA issued just 13 licenses, at $1,500 apiece. The very few farmers who received licenses faced tall hurdles, like actually finding seeds.

In addition, ODA's rules contained strange missives, like that hemp could not be grown in greenhouses and that it must be produced for fiber and not cannabidiol (CBD). None of this made any sense, and it took some time for the Oregon Department of Justice to sort it out. Then, last summer, the House overwhelmingly approved a two-year moratorium on what was essentially a pilot program. In a strange twist, the ban was actually supported by some nervous weed growers, who worried about cross-pollination from hemp crops.

Then, the story got even stranger: The ban bill failed in the Senate, by a 13 to 17 vote. This happened—at least in part—due to cynical votes from the likes of Senator Rod Monroe (D-Portland), who voted to support hemp on an anti-weed platform. The Oregonian quoted Monroe as saying, "I don't think it would be a particularly bad thing if marijuana was weakened a bit." He added, apparently seriously, that he thought his vote might save lives.

So as of this February, ODA was sitting on its hands, waiting on the legislature. And to the legislature's credit, it put together a pretty good hemp bill in this short session. For example, HB 4060 allows for hemp grows of various sizes and it lets farmers use transplanted starters and clones. It allows hemp to be processed onsite. Finally, it requires hemp products intended for human consumption to be tested and screened, like pot.

The Oregon Farm Bureau supported HB 4060 because it wants hemp to be "treated like other crops." That sounds right to me. For its part, ODA seems fully committed: Even before Governor Kate Brown signed the new law on March 29, applications were available on the agency website. The hemp application is a breezy two-pager (no pot lawyer needed), and a license should take a few short weeks to acquire.

The idea here is that Oregon wants farmers to harvest hemp this year. After trailing medical and even recreational marijuana in Oregon, maybe the hemp scene has finally arrived.