Laura Garber, a founding member of the newly incorporated Bitterroot Hemp Co-op inspects a field of hemp plants.

By Guy Gregory
MCDC Communications Specialist

Montana’s youngest cooperative – the Bitterroot Hemp Co-op – recently announced the completion of its incorporation process and the election of its first board of directors. The co-op formed rapidly after filing its “intent to incorporate” in November as there has been significant interest among those willing to invest in the local hemp enterprise. The 20+ founding members of Montana’s first hemp co-op will operate as a cooperative association, meaning that both producers and non-producers can be active, voting members.

“The purpose of this co-op is to help develop the hemp industry in the Bitterroot Valley and across Montana,” explains Julie Foster, Executive Director of the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority, who assisted with developing this new co-op.  Several of the new members are farmers who have been growing and cultivating hemp on a pilot basis for many seasons.

According to Foster, they want to know “how a co-op can help support the manufacturing and adding of value to hemp.” Several value-added products can be produced from hemp including hemp oil, clothes, soap, rope, and even beer.  Foster adds that two Hamilton microbrewers have started including hemp in a couple of their ales.  Unlike it’s cannabis cousin, marijuana, hemp contains only a trace amount of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), so, the plant is not considered to have the psychoactive effects of marijuana.

Despite the difference between the two plants, the state of Montana historically has imposed strict limitations on the cultivation of hemp in view of the federal restrictions that have been in place.  The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill that has passed Congress and is only awaiting President Trump’s signature will finally legalize the commercial production of hemp and allow federal resources to support hemp co-op activities.