Abby Lee Senate 2-27-20

Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, addresses the Idaho Senate on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020.

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BOISE — Idaho farmers could legally grow and process industrial hemp and truckers with permits hauling the legal product across the state wouldn’t be subject to arrest, under legislation that cleared the Idaho Senate Thursday on a 27-5 vote.

If the bill, SB 1352, becomes law — which still would take House passage and the governor’s signature — Idaho would end its distinction as one of the last states to legalize the non-psychoactive product, which Congress legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill. Current Idaho law treats hemp just like its more potent cousin, marijuana, and several out-of-state truckers have faced drug trafficking charges with mandatory minimum prison terms as a result, though the charges eventually were reduced.

“Last year, we tried a couple of different ways and we went home with nothing,” Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, told the Senate. “And those who want CBD instead of industrial hemp will not like this bill, because this is an agriculture bill.”

Last year, no hemp legislation was passed because of a dispute between the House, which favored legislation that would have removed hemp and derivatives, such as CBD oil, with 0.3% or less THC content from Idaho’s Schedule 1 list of dangerous drugs, and the Senate, which didn’t. In the meantime, Gov. Brad Little issued an executive order authorizing interstate transportation of legal hemp from out of state across Idaho, but its provisions have proven confusing, Lee said, causing firms to plan routes that bypass the state.

The new bill merely allows the production, processing and transportation of industrial hemp under a permitting and regulatory system, Lee said, with the industry paying fees to help fund it. Its provisions authorize industrial hemp in Idaho that’s 0.3% or less THC “notwithstanding” the Schedule 1 provisions listed elsewhere in Idaho law, which make any amount of THC illegal.

“This is not a perfect bill,” Lee said. “This is a first step. … It keeps the ball in play.”

“We worked hard with the Fraternal Order of Police and our prosecutors to strike a balance,” she said. “Food Producers and Farm Bureau support this bill. … It is a good step forward.”

Though several senators asked questions, none debated against the bill. Lee is co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, who also worked with her on last year’s unsuccessful legislation.

“Clearly, good senators, the policy is our purview, and we need to address this rather than just have an executive order temporarily addressing this,” Lee said.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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