Hemp is one step closer to becoming a viable and legal industry in Alaska. Earlier this week, the state released proposed regulations to get growers into a pilot program.

Chris and Ember Haynes own Denali Hemp Company in Talkeetna. Right now, they have to get their hemp seed oil ingredients from Colorado since it’s illegal for them to grow their own plants.

“We just believe in real potent medicine that is just the plants themselves,” Ember said.

It was a passion for plants and herbal healing that led them to start the company, but Ember said hemp has endless potential which makes it a smart investment.

“It can be grown to be fiber, to be fuel, to make plastics, animal feed as well,” she said.

The couple tries to use as many local ingredients in their products as possible, even foraging their own Devil’s club. Chris said they’d be thrilled to grow their own and make their products even more sustainable.

“If we’re doing it from the planting the seed in the ground to selling the salve on the shelf, then it’s not going to get much better than that, I think,” Chris said.

The work to get industrial hemp started in Alaska begins at the Plant Materials Center (PMC) in Palmer. The 2014 Farm Bill and the Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 6 last year authorized the state to begin a pilot program. PMC staff planted six different strains in April for the first phase.

“It’s been illegal for 70 years so there hasn’t been open breeding or propagation of materials that were widely shared, so a lot of this material we have here is actually experimental line stuff,” explained Rob Carter, the PMC director.

Each of the hundreds of cannabis sativa plants is individually labeled. Each will be tested to see what level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) they produce. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana. To be considered hemp, the plant has to have a 0.3 THC content or lower.

“We don’t have a lot of research that shows what varietals grow well, do they do well out doors, do they do well in controlled environments,” Carter said.

The state recently put out its proposed regulation for the industry. Carter encourages people to weigh in with all of their comments, questions and concerns.

Hemp has the potential to be a big moneymaker for the state. A report on hemp as an agriculture commodity from the Congressional Research Service cites data from the Hemp Industries Association that the total 2016 retail sales in the United States from hemp products was nearly $700 million.

“It’s Alaska’s opportunity now to get into that, to develop the production practices and the marketing product so we can have a safe product,” Carter said.

Chris and Ember stopped by the PMC greenhouse to get a look at what the pilot program is producing. They hope to be selected to grow as part of the study, too.

“It is very important. People need to speak out when they have the chance and not wait until it’s passed and then complain about it. This is the time,” Ember said.

She said they’re thoroughly reading through the proposed regulations and said others with an interest in the industry should do so as well. The public comment period for the state regulations is open until July 3.

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