Johnson County stakeholders helped quash potential hemp restrictions
After the testimony of Wyoming hemp producers and state business owners — including Buffalo’s Laura DeMatteis and Dave and Reena Veit — legislators tabled action on a bill intended to increase restrictions on hemp production and use in Wyoming.
DeMatteis, who runs the Holistic Health Center in Buffalo, told legislators at their Nov. 16 virtual meeting she is opposed to added regulations because she has seen the health benefits of hemp and CBD firsthand in people overcoming addiction, insomnia, depression, anxiety and PTSD.
As part of her business, she said, she started exploring hemp and CBD products as soon as they became legal in the state and currently recommends those products to her clients.
She said she understands the bill’s intention — to help police distinguish between the two plants — but believes if legislators want to revisit the bill, they should work to fix that problem instead of putting blanket restrictions on the industry like the original bill proposed.
“The main reason that this bill was instigated to start with was law enforcement says they have difficulty identifying,” she said. “If they bring the bill back and deal with that issue — infield, onsite identification — (I) think it would take care of the real problem.”
DeMatteis said she’s worried that significant restrictions could negate the economic progress the industry has made, and that looking at restrictions during the middle of the pandemic and economic slowdown would hurt businesses.
“In these economic times, you’d think these lawmakers may want to support this industry,” she said.
She also said restrictions would run contrary to the state constitution, which provides citizens the “right to make health care decisions.”
Dave and Reena Veit, owners of Buffalo Gardens and WYO Hemp, also testified at the meeting that their income could be impacted if restrictions were placed on production.
“We grew a lot of different seeds for people this year, germed them, they then went out and planted them,” Dave Veit said. “It brought a substantial amount of income into our business. Had we not done that this crazy year, I don’t know where we’d have been.”
He said he felt moving forward with restrictions similar to those proposed by Kost would roll back everything the original hemp bill approved.
“I think it would kill the other industries that come in,” he said. “There’s going to be some processing plants and other industries to make products.”
Veit did say, however, that he agreed with some of the lawmakers that it would not be bad to establish a 21-year-old age requirement to smoke hemp and packaging should be easily identifiable as hemp, not marijuana.
The Johnson County Prevention Council, however, agreed with much of the language of the proposed bill, with Bill Hawley, the county’s community prevention specialist, saying the council’s main concern is the interpretation of the original hemp legislation. He said he and the council believe the original bill was passed only for agricultural hemp purposes.
“Fiber, fabrics, those sorts of things,” he said. “Certainly the intent was not for smokable hemp products.”
He said the section in the legislation that allows “the possession, purchase, sale, transportation and use of hemp and hemp products by any person is allowable without restriction” creates a loophole for the smokable products.
“So our perspective from a prevention standpoint would simply be to close that loophole,” Hawley said.
He said allowing hemp or CBD products is dangerous given the number of unknowns associated with the product and the expense — about $450 per test — associated with law enforcement determining a product’s THC level.
Outgoing House Dist. 40 Rep. Richard Tass, R-Buffalo, a member of the committee, largely sided with both DeMatteis and Veit, saying he opposes the proposed bill because he fears it would kill the hemp industry that legislators approved just two years ago.
“I’m not in favor of drugs, but we did pass this hemp bill, … so I think our bill that we passed and worked pretty hard at was a good bill to help start a new industry,” he said. “I really think this one here, it comes out and it says, ‘no person shall process, sell’ or anything. That literally kills all the work that we did in the last two years setting up this hemp industry.”
The bill was initially introduced to the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee on Aug. 27 by Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell after Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt brought his concerns to Kost over regulations and the difficulty police have in determining whether a product is hemp or marijuana.
The proposed bill would have made it illegal to “process, possess or sell” hemp for smoking.
It would also have banned the use of CBD in alcoholic beverages and any food product or beverages, unless approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In addition, hemp products containing CBD could not have been marketed as dietary supplements or make medical claims without a label warning that the product has not been evaluated by the FDA.
Bill Hawley, Johnson County’s community prevention specialist, said the legislation would not have restricted CBD oils.
Kost eventually said he would be in favor of removing most restrictions from the bill, except for those on public smoking and an age requirement of 21 years, but the committee ended up tabling the bill, with Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, the committee’s chairman, encouraging Kost to continue working the bill and to bring it back in a future session.