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Half-way hemp law puts shippers in a bind

When Congress does something half-way, it can cause more problems than it solves. That’s certainly true of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp nationwide as an agricultural crop.

What Congress didn’t do was make sure farmers growing hemp could ship it to buyers across the country without fear that over-zealous police officers would seize it in the mistaken belief that it was recreational marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law despite legalization in 11 states. At best, such seizures delay shipments while the product is tested; at worst, the hemp may be damaged or destroyed if sealed packages are opened, or if hemp is held in hot warehouses for weeks at a time.

Hemp, which has been used for centuries to make rope, sailcloth and other products, is now prized for the cannabidiol it contains — a substance that does not make users high but is widely believed to be an effective pain remedy. Its cousin, recreational marijuana, contains high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive chemical. Federal law lists it as a Schedule 1 substance, the most dangerous category, defined as a drug with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, on a par with heroin, LSD and mescaline.

Southern Oregon has a major stake in how the hemp industry develops from now on. Jackson County is the leading producer in the state, with 8,500 acres planted this season. The harvest is in full swing, and buyers far and wide want what this region is producing. The problem is getting it there.

Two truck drivers still face prison time for hauling what turned out to be perfectly legal hemp across Idaho. In another case, Idaho authorities held 69 pounds of Oregon hemp for six weeks before releasing it when test results confirmed it was legal.

Eventually, as more states join the trend toward legalizing recreational marijuana, Congress may come to its senses and legalize it nationwide. Until then, with hemp and marijuana indistinguishable from each other without lab tests, Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture should establish a nationwide certification system so shippers can present official paperwork that confirms they are hauling a legal crop, not illegal drugs.