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The Idaho commerce roadblock

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Idaho state officials like to declare how their state is open for business, and in many respects it is. But in some areas it is fiercely stubborn — to the point of blocking interstate commerce.

Such as commerce in hemp.

Late last year a new federal farm bill passed legalizing on a national level commerce and transport of hemp, a plant product genetically similar to marijuana (both are considered forms of cannabis) but without its psychotropic capabilities. Hemp, remarkable versatile, is used in construction, for clothing and other cloth goods, paper, foods, medications and other uses. That follows legalization in states around the country, including most states around the west . . . but not Idaho. In Idaho, unlike many other states, no legal distinction is made between hemp and marijuana, which also is illegal in Idaho (though not in most of its neighboring states). There have been attempts throughout this millennium to change the hemp law in Idaho, including one in last year’s legislature, but it hasn’t happened yet.

One hemp industry website pointed out, “Hemp entrepreneurs say that hemp transportation has been an elusive promise of nationwide legalization. The Farm Bill promised protection for hemp transportation but left states with no uniform way to test THC content. So, cannabis plants that may go on a truck as legal hemp in one state can fail a THC test in another state and be seized as illegal marijuana.”

Last year, in one widely-publicized case, Idaho officials seized a truckload of industrial hemp from Oregon bound for Colorado, and criminally charged the truck driver. The case has been partly resolved, but the hemp remains seized.

The federal Department of Agriculture said in one memo, “States and Indian tribes also may not prohibit the interstate transportation or shipment of hemp lawfully produced under the 2014 Farm Bill.” But Idaho officials seem to have made clear they intend to do just that. (As the feds gradually release clarifying regulations over time, some of that trouble may ease. Then again, given the attitudes at stake, maybe not.)

Drawing your attention now to the states west of Idaho: Washington and Oregon, where the hemp industry is thriving.

In Oregon, where hemp growing has been legal since 2015, the expansion has been rapid. In year one of legalization the state had 13 growers operating on 105 acres of land; this year the growers number about 2,000, operating on about 62,000 acres. Roll down your car window in many rural parts of Oregon and you can smell the new industry. (Side note: Not everyone loves the odor.)

Since Washington and California to Oregon’s north and south also are substantial hemp growers, many Oregon producers look toward shipping east – which means through Idaho. But what they’re seeing is a big, bad road block to their commercial efforts.

That may mean a psychology is starting to develop in some places about how commercially to avoid Idaho. Like other states, Idaho pulls in substantial money, in public revenues and in the private economy, from trucking businesses. But what may be developing is a line of thinking that sends trucks south, over remote and lightly populated highways, through Nevada instead, on their way to other states.

States other than Idaho.

People in most states like to maintain their distinctiveness from others in various ways; just as there’s an Idaho Way of doing things, people in Oregon and Washington and Nevada and Montana and other states like to proclaim their own ways too. Fine.

But when some of those distinctive ways start shutting down economic and other communication with their neighbors, they might be worth reviewing.
 

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