Nez Perce Tribe Opens Comment Period for Proposed Hemp Ordinance

Lapwai, Idaho- On September 10, 2020, the Nez Perce Tribe (Tribe) provided notice of a proposed amendment to the Nez Perce Tribal Code (Code) regarding the regulation of the cultivation, processing and distribution of industrial hemp (Hemp Ordinance) on the Nez Perce Reservation. The notice opened up a comment period for the amendment, with a deadline of October 23, 2020. 


This proposed Hemp Ordinance will provide a regulatory framework for the safe and legal production of industrial hemp on the Nez Perce Reservation.  Approval of the Hemp Ordinance must be completed in coordination with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which through the 2018 Farm Bill, directed establishment of a national regulatory framework for hemp production in the United States.  The USDA must approve plans submitted by states and Indian tribes for the domestic production of hemp.  


Industrial hemp has many uses including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food, health products and fuel.  “Due to its versatility and organic nature, Industrial hemp has been identified as a potential avenue for economic development on the Reservation,” stated Arthur Broncheau, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Law and Order Subcommittee Chair.  “Because there is tremendous growth in sectors of the economy that rely on hemp, the Tribe believes hemp is an emerging market that can accomplish economic self-sufficiency and increase jobs in our region,” continued Broncheau.  


The Tribe has deliberated on this topic for the past few years and evaluated research and recommendations on paths forward. The Tribe has also been active in the United States’ promulgation of federal regulations of this industry. “Promoting sustainability is a mission and core value of the Climate Change and Energy Sub-committee. We want to grow and help improve the soil that is used for agricultural purposes currently, and reconnect with a part of our culture that has been lost,” stated Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Vice-Chair, Chantel Greene.  “Our ancestors grew and utilized hemp for several reasons including the creation of basic supplies, such as clothing and rope, and to support their health and wellbeing.” 


While hemp and marijuana are both members of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa L, their differences are significant. “Hemp” is the term used to describe the food and fiber variety of the cannabis plant, while “marijuana” is the name given to cannabis that’s grown to enhance the chemicals (such as delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol or “THC”) that make one feel intoxicated. Hemp and marijuana also must be grown using different techniques and in different environments to produce the best possible results.  Hemp cannot be used to obtain an intoxicated “high” like marijuana.  “One important element of this project will be to provide the necessary education to help create an understanding of the difference between hemp and marijuana. This plan will not conflict with the Controlled Substances Act,” stated Broncheau.


The Tribe will regulate for “Acceptable Hemp THC Level” as prescribed by federal law. This means when a laboratory tests a hemp sample, it must report the (“THC”) concentration level on a dry weight basis of the sample. The Acceptable Hemp THC level of a sample, for the purpose of compliance with the requirements of the Hemp Ordinance, is when the THC level on a dry weight basis produces a distribution or range that includes 0.3% or less of THC.  


The proposed Hemp Ordinance would also implement licensing requirements for growers, require inspection and sampling, pre- and post-harvest testing, and regulations on use of pesticides. “It is important that there are proper laws in place to regulate this new industry,” continued Broncheau.  “Once a final Hemp Ordinance is approved by the USDA and codified by the Tribe, the Tribe will work on implementation of the regulatory framework. The ultimate goal will be ensuring that there is a clear and consistent process in place for regulating growers on the Reservation,” concluded Broncheau.