Washington state legislators have their eyes and pens on a new cash crop. It’s cannabis – but not recreational marijuana.
"Honestly I was a little skeptical about, 'What is this?'" explained Rep. Vincent Buys.
Rep. Buys (R-Lynden) kept an open mind and later decided industrial hemp might be exactly what his farmland covered district needs.
"You name it and they produce the seeds," he said about Skagit Valley.
One seed farmers can’t produce right now, however, is industrial hemp.
The most recent federal Farm Bill allows for its growth in states where an academic research institution is studying the plant. WSU has been selected as that institution, but Washington State must also pass legislation for farmers to cultivate the crop.
Two bills recently proposed never made it to a final vote due to time constraints.
Rep. Buys plans to sponsor a new bill in the 2015 session.
"Everybody's on board with it,” he said. "Farmers, rather than to keep a field fallow or have a low value crop, then they can put in a high-value crop."
In the meantime, Whatcom County will be the site of an industrial hemp pilot study this year.
"I'm a single mom and I was looking for a way to build an industry for myself and leave something for my children,” Sandy Soderberg said. "I see it as an opportunity to bring industry for the people in the community."
Soderberg already has seedlings ready to plant this week. Founder of Evergreen Hemp Co., she’ll test different kinds of Whatcom County soil and harvest seeds.
Industrial hemp activists point to thousands of uses: material, nutritional, and agricultural.
Unlike recreational marijuana, industrial hemp has less than .3% THC content.
"It's like comparing a Chihuahua and a wolf," Soderberg said.
There is concern the plants could cross-pollinate if grown too close together.
"Those seeds that are produced, the next crop, can be a high THC content," Rep. Buys said.
Legislation would require farmers to obtain a license and use only approved farmland.
Whatcom County believes the grass is greenest on their side. Industrial hemp advocates believe their plant will make it even greener, and serve as an investment in farmers.
"That what they're going to be seeing in the fields is not something they can get high on but something they can build a future on," Soderberg said.