Pilot program for AK grown hemp loses funding

Published: Jul. 31, 2019 at 7:46 PM AKDT
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Around 1000 hemp plants were recently destroyed at the Plant Material Center (PMT) in Palmer.

With reduced state funding, the Department of Natural resources says it no longer had enough staff to take care of the plants. It looks like Alaska's pilot program for growing hemp in state could be dead before it ever actually gets off the ground.

Then-governor Bill Walker signed a law establishing the program last spring. It took until earlier this summer for a draft of the potential rules and regulations to be published, and now, the program has been completely defunded.

While marijuana is legal to grow in Alaska, there are still no clear guidelines on whether hemp can be grown legally. Hemp is related to marijuana, but contains less than .3% THC- the psychoactive compound that causes pot users to get high.

Hemp can be used in a variety of applications, from medicinal products to textile materials and livestock fodder; however, the hemp used in several products being sold in Alaska has to be brought in from out of state. Business owners like Aaron Ralph have been working to change that for years.

Ralph testified in Washington before the 2014 Farm Bill was signed into law, and then again in Juneau as Senate Bill 6 was being considered. He says that his hope was to bring down overhead costs for the three hemp-based products he currently sells as part of his business, Alaska Cannabis Exchange.

Right now, a 60-day supply of one of Ralph's CBD oils costs about $165. The hemp used to make that oil is grown in Colorado.

Ralph says that if Alaska could be a part of that, he could produce these products in Alaska, bringing that price down to about $120.

"It's just kind of disappointing, because our goal was always to be able to produce Alaska's products in Alaska," he said, "I see this as jobs lost for the state."

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