In 2019, tribal hemp employed 19, made $2100 per acre

NESPELEM - Almost a year after industrial hemp was legalized under federal law with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the USDA published an interim rule on the federal registry, Oct. 31, regarding domestic production of hemp.

As a result, tribes from across Indian Country have begun to respond.

Wednesday in Las Vegas, USDA held a tribal consultation to discuss the Industrial Hemp Interim Final Rule, hosting the Colville Tribes and others from around Indian Country.

Locally, the Colville Tribes have begun to organize in response to the proposed new law as well.

In Colville Business Council’s Law and Justice Committee session, Dec. 3, Colville Tribal Office of Reservation Attorney’s Shannon Thomas and Colville Tribal Conservation District Manager Jackie Richter provided an update to CBC on the USDA interim law.

While the Colville Tribes have grown hemp for three seasons, first by operating under a Washington state research permit and then under a federal permit, the new law pertains to how the tribe would manage individual tribal member growers involved in hemp production on trust lands on the reservation, explained Thomas.

“This is a plan under which we are allowing individual tribal members to produce hemp,” said Thomas, who specified along with Richter, that under current law tribal members can produce hemp under the state’s authority but that can be seen as a forfeiting of tribal sovereignty. “It is really a program that you are offering to enable a tribal member to grow and produce hemp for their own personal revenue.”

According to the law website Judas Supra, the 2018 Farm Bill required the USDA to create regulations regarding domestic hemp production, and “any state or tribal authority who wants to have primary regulatory authority over hemp production in its state or tribal territory is required to submit a plan to USDA which describes how it will monitor and regulate the domestic production of the hemp.”

The website continues to note, “The new interim rule specifies rules and regulations for hemp production, outlines provisions for USDA to approve plans submitted by states and tribes for domestic hemp production and establishes a federal plan for producers in states or tribes who do not have their own USDA-approved plan.”

In her presentation, Thomas highlighted the new law’s concern with location, sampling and testing for THC, designated law enforcement personnel, disposal procedures for crops with THC over .3 percent and enforcement procedures and inspections.

Richter noted one concern is that the new law calls for sampling and testing for THC within 15 days of harvest.

The website Judas Supra summarizes the new law’s sampling section by stating, “Within 15 days prior to harvest, certain designated law enforcement officers are required to collect samples from the flower material to test for acceptable THC levels. Testing procedures must ensure that the test is completed by a DEA-registered facility using a reliable THC testing methodology. Hemp testing labs have to be registered with the DEA to conduct chemical analysis of controlled substances. The term ‘acceptable hemp THC level’ is addressed in detail by the interim rule. Of note, the interim rule does not alter the definition of hemp or marijuana as it exists under federal law – that is, cannabis which contains THC levels of higher than 0.3 percent dry weight is considered to be marijuana, a schedule I controlled substance regulated under the Controlled Substances Act.”

Richter noted whereas previously the tribe was required to test entire plants for THC 30 days prior to harvest, the new law calls for the testing of the tops of plants 15 days prior to harvest.

Richter explained as hemp develops, the THC level increases and further the THC is concentrated highest at the top of the plants.

Reciting from memory, Richter stated last year the tribes’ crop tested at a THC level of .178 percent dry weight.

“Those were 30 days prior to harvest and it was whole-plant testing,” said Richter. “Now they are talking about testing just the top of the plant, 15 days prior. I don’t know how anybody is going to pass in the nation, honestly. It is pretty risky, unless we are growing seed varieties that don’t produce good flower. If you want to be a conspiracy theorist, you can imagine those regulations were put in place to stifle the growth.”

A federal comment period on the USDA proposed law ends Dec. 31.

Thomas noted ORA will continue to develop a tribal code proposal based on the federal law change, which will mirror the USDA plan. 

In 2019, tribal hemp employed 19, made $2100 per acre, reports Richter

 NESPELEM – During a presentation to the Colville Business Council concerning the 2019 growing season for the Colville Tribes industrial hemp program, Colville Tribal Conservation District Manager Jackie Richter stated the program employed 19 tribal members and profited approximately $2,100 per acre after all costs. 

“I really liked my crew that was out there,” said Richter. “I have a good crew. There are a lot of people who might not be able to work other places, but they worked very well out there. They worked really well for me. They might not have been employable other places, but they were for us. They worked hard for us. I was really proud of it, 19 tribal members. I had one last year who worked for us.”

With 720 pounds of flower harvested, Richter anticipates a sale price of $145 per pound, equaling $104,400 for the flower. 

With 8,000 pounds of biomass harvested, Richter anticipated a sale price of approximately $22 per pound, equaling $176,000.

The program entered a 60/40 cost-share with an agricultural producer who provided the plants for the annual crop.

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