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Hemp farmers can plant in spring

PORTLAND  — Oregon farmers could put in their first crop of industrial hemp this spring, the state Agriculture Department says.

The department has finished making rules and is now accepting applications for licenses to grow.

Hemp is the cousin of marijuana that doesn't cause a high.

Historically, the crop was used for rope, but advocates these days tout it for clothing, food and cosmetics as well.

The crop is still illegal under federal law, but eighteen states have removed barriers to production, said Lauren Stansbury of the Hemp Industries Association told The Oregonian.

Three reported crops last year, she said: Colorado, Kentucky and Vermont.

The Oregon Legislature made industrial hemp legal in 2009, but state officials held off rule-making until the Obama administration signaled that it wouldn't make cracking down on hemp cultivation a priority.

The recreational marijuana initiative that Oregon voters approved last year included legal hemp, saying its goal was to make sure the crop could be planted in accordance with the existing law.

During the rule-making process, potential hemp growers chafed at some restrictions, but agency officials said they were set in the law.

Among them was a three-year license, which might discourage growers who thought to give the crop a one-year test. The agency priced the license at $1,500.

Another was a prohibition against processing hemp seeds into oil, diminishing potential uses.

The law requires industrial hemp to contain less than 0.3 percent of the chemical that gives marijuana its kick. That's tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC.

Where Oregon farmers will get seeds for a first crop isn't clear — Canada and other nations are mentioned as potential suppliers.

Agriculture Department officials say they are investigating how other states have gotten seeds, including getting permission from federal drug authorities.

In this Sept. 23, 2014, file photo, a tractor cuts a small plot of hemp at a University of Kentucky research plot near Lexington, Ky. The Oregon Agriculture Department has begun accepting applications to grow industrial hemp, in time for spring planting. Industrial hemp is the cousin of marijuana that doesn't cause a high. AP PHOTO.