The passage of Washington Initiative 502 legalizing cannabis possession, manufacture, and sale in Washington State presents significant opportunities and challenges for our state.

In addition, the recently passed 2014 Federal Farm Bill authorized for the first time the production of industrial hemp for research purposes, in states where the growing of hemp is legal. While, the 2014 Washington Legislature failed to pass House Bill 1888, which permitted the development of an industrial hemp industry, it is likely that this bill in some form will eventually pass.

The near-simultaneous passage of Initiative 502 and the Farm Bill has created some confusion for policy makers at the local, state, and federal level. While industrial hemp and marijuana both come from the same plant (Cannabis sativa), they are very different products and present very different challenges when considering research issues and opportunities. Industrial hemp is primarily used as a fiber in industrial applications (e.g., textiles, paper, building materials) and contains less than 1% THC (tetrahydrocannabinoids). Marijuana is primarily used for medicinal or recreational purposes and contains 3% – 15% THC. Industrial hemp is typically produced at a large field scale and requires few inputs, while marijuana employs more intensive production practices and is typically produced in greenhouses.

Washington State University recognizes the need for education and research around the many complex issues raised by implementation of the initiatives pertaining to industrial hemp and recreational and medicinal cannabis.

As the state’s land-grant, research university, WSU is well positioned to help inform the scientific, economic and public policy conversations resulting from the passage of I-522 and changes in the Farm Bill concerning production of industrial hemp. These studies could address several topics, including, but not limited to:
• economic feasibility studies;
• industry economic impact analysis;
• agronomic research;
• product development research (in the case of industrial hemp); and
• public policy analysis, including those impacting public health.

However, despite these new provisions, issues remain that must be resolved prior to embarking on any research that involves the production of industrial hemp or recreational and medicinal cannabis. Federal law requires that all research facilities where industrial hemp is grown be registered by the state. To date, no policies or processes have been set to obtain these permissions. Research that would involve the production of cannabis for research purposes also would be prohibited under federal law; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies and regulates cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. As such, its production – including for research purposes – requires DEA approved containment facilities with 24-7 surveillance.

In the months to come, WSU will continue to monitor emerging opportunities to assist the state in addressing issues resulting from the legalization of industrial hemp and marijuana production. The number of bills introduced in the State Legislature reflects a growing awareness of the policy and research opportunities and challenges for industrial hemp and medicinal or recreational cannabis. In our role as the state land-grant institution we look forward to engaging with policy-makers to help shape their questions.