The Colville Tribes launched an industrial hemp operation on its reservation in Washington on July 9, 2017. Photo courtesy Colville Tribes
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Colville Tribes start hemp cultivation and marketing project in Washington

The Colville Tribes have joined the hemp industry.

The tribe planted an industrial hemp crop on a 60-arce parcel of its reservation on July 9, Chairman Michael E. Marchand announced on Monday. The project is the first of its kind in Washington state.

“The Colville Tribes is beginning the project because hemp, along with a wider regenerative agricultural program, can have a significant positive economic impact on our reservation and its members,” Marchand said.

Hemp, like its close relative marijuana, is considered illegal under federal law. But a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill authorizes production in states where it has been legalized.

Washington legalized hemp last year and finalized rules for a pilot program in April. Two months later, the state's Department of Agriculture issued the first three permits under the program and the Colville Tribes were one of the recipients.

“We have seen successful hemp production Canada and in states like Colorado and Vermont, so we’re pleased to begin this process,' Marchand said.

At least one other tribe tried to enter the hemp industry but the effort didn't turn out so well for the Menominee Nation. Federal agents destroyed the tribe's crops in October 2016 and a lawsuit that invoked the Farm Bill failed because the operation was not authorized by the state of Wisconsin.

The situation in Washington has been far different. A handful of tribes have been selling marijuana after reaching agreements with the state.

The Colville Tribes haven't gone that route, instead focusing on hemp. The plant has a wide variety of uses -- from paper products to clothing to food.

According to Marchand, the tribe's permit covers the research of hemp cultivation and marketing.