Last year, Wyoming lawmakers wisely legalized industrial hemp growing. Since then, state leaders have encouraged the creation of a hemp industry here, and in April, a Casper summit attracted hundreds of potential growers.
There was just one problem. The federal government needed to craft rules for hemp production. That process wasn’t complete in time for farmers to plant hemp for the 2019 growing season.
Thankfully, that bureaucratic obstacle was eliminated last week when the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved interim rules for hemp growers. Now, the ball is back in the state’s court. Once the state has finished developing its own regulatory apparatus, farmers can begin planting hemp. And that can’t happen soon enough.
We all know that our state faces serious economic challenges. The coal industry has experienced one of its most challenging years in memory. Natural gas has been a victim of its own success, as a glut in supply has pushed down prices.
That, in turn, has hurt Wyoming’s fiscal outlook. A report released last week showed that state revenues were expected to fall by $185 million over the next three years.
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Given the volatility of the fossil fuel sector, any industry that can provide steady growth for Wyoming is welcome. And while a burgeoning hemp industry won’t solve all the state’s problems, it would certainly provide a badly needed boost at a critical time.
And Wyoming is ideally suited to take advantage of the growing hemp industry. Hemp, which lacks the psychoactive properties of marijuana, is a cool weather crop that thrives in places with dry, slightly alkaline soils. Wyoming can also offer hemp growers a low-regulatory environment with government officials who are enthusiastic about the crop’s possibilities.
Gov. Mark Gordon attended the April summit and said he wanted his administration to do what it could to “get our crops into the ground as quickly as possible.”
His administration appears to be doing exactly that.
After the federal government approved the interim rules, Agriculture Department Director Doug Miyamoto said his agency planned to amend the industrial hemp production plan that the state submitted to the federal government in April to better align it with the new federal regulations. Miyamoto indicated the agency wanted to move forward quickly so that farmers could get to work.
We’re hopeful that the state can keep up this momentum. Given the challenges facing Wyoming, along with competition from other states interested in hemp production, it would be a missed opportunity if growers can’t begin planting in 2020.
We are often critical of lawmakers when they drag their feet on economic opportunities for the state that exist outside of the fossil fuel paradigm. It’s refreshing to see them working so hard to make industrial hemp an option for Wyoming farmers and a benefit to Wyoming’s economy.