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Eagle Point farmer the first to get a hemp permit

A Jackson County farmer received the first permit in the state of Oregon to grow hemp but faces some red tape before he can start planting.

“At 64, I never thought I would see the day it would happen,” said Edgar Winters, an Eagle Point resident who says he is director of the Oregon Agriculture Food and Rural Consortium.

Winters plans to grow 25 acres of hemp this year if he can clear various state and federal hurdles.

“There’s a lot of legalities still involved,” he said.

Winters, who is also a medical marijuana patient and supporter of cannabis legalization, said he has the equipment and the warehouses in Murphy to process the hemp, expecting to get three to seven tons an acre.

According to Oregon law, industrial hemp must contain less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to distinguish it from marijuana, which contains a much higher THC level.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture approved Winters' permit recently and also approved another permit for a Willamette Valley farmer, according to Ron Pence, who is in charge of industrial hemp with the Agriculture Department. A hemp permit costs $1,500 and is valid for three years.

An industrial hemp grower is required to have at least 2.5 contiguous acres.

Pence said obtaining the seeds will be a joint effort with his department, Oregon State University, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the grower.

“We are right now are trying to get our arms wrapped around the application process,” Pence said.

The DEA has to approve the transport of seed from another state or possibly from out of the country, Pence said.

A seed producer in Canada was contacted but didn’t want to sell seeds in Oregon for fear that local farmers would create their own seed, Pence said.

Besides Canada, Russia, Hungary, Australia and New Zealand are mentioned as possible import sources for seeds to grow a crop that has long been outlawed in the United States, with seed imports blocked by federal agents.

The Oregon Legislature legalized growing hemp in 2009, but the state held off writing rules until the federal government signaled it wouldn't crack down on well-regulated crops. The state Department of Agriculture finished the rules earlier this year and said it was ready to issue licenses.

In Kentucky, the state Agriculture Department sued to get the DEA to release seeds imported from Italy. In Colorado, state regulators looked the other way as growers obtained seeds on their own.

Late last year, Kentucky officials said they were heartened by a provision in the new federal budget bill that was aimed at keeping federal drug officials from interfering with hemp research and development projects designated by state governments. The provision was supported by Mitch McConnell, the U.S. senator from Kentucky who is now majority leader and a proponent of hemp production.

Historically, hemp was grown for rope. It is used in a variety of products, including clothing, food, paper and cosmetics. As many as 18 states, including Oregon, have removed barriers to production, but starting an industry has proved slow-going.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.