With the 2018 Farm Bill and subsequent updates, many people thought they were in the clear when it came to growing hemp flower and operating their business – but as is typically the case in this industry, the smokable hemp flower market is facing unprecedented challenges yet again.
So, what’s the problem now? It’s an issue only present in certain states, and it all boils down to the appearance of hemp flowers. Since they look and smell just like cannabis buds, law enforcement is having a difficult time differentiating between the two, calling on government officials to just “ban it all”.
What is Smokable Hemp Flower?
Let’s start with the basics, what is smokable hemp flower? It’s exactly what it sounds like, flower buds that can be smoked just like cannabis, only the flowers come from hemp plants. Both cannabis and hemp come from the same plant family but cannabis generally has high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), although it can also have notable levels of other cannabinoids such as THCV and CBD.
Hemp, on the other hand, is high CBD (cannabidiol) and sometimes CBG (cannabigerol), THCV, CBC, and other minor cannabinoids. It also had a full profile of terpenes and flavonoids, but only trace amounts of THC.
There is also a bit of variation within the hemp category itself. There are smokable hemp flowers, which is what I just described above, and then there is industrial hemp. Industrial hemp doesn’t have the flowering buds and it’s grown for production, such as in the use of textiles, concrete, plastic, batteries, and more.
Smokable hemp flower is often preferred over regular, THC-dominant buds for numerous reasons. For starters, hemp flower is legal (although some states are fighting that). Also, users can benefit from some of the therapeutic effects of various cannabinoids and terpenes without feeling intoxicated and unable to complete their daily tasks.
0.3% or 1% THC?
One of the largest rifts in the hemp industry stems from where the cutoff should lie for THC content in hemp flower plants. Legally, hemp can’t have more than 0.3% THC, and with USDA’s (U.S. Department of Agriculture) newly revised testing procedures (which you can read about here), most plants fall into the non-compliant category with around 0.5 to 0.7 percent THC.
More than 40% of hemp fields recently tested in Arizona were marked as being over the legal threshold of THC. The hemp fields were destroyed resulting in 670 acres of hemp wasted and about $13.4 million in losses. This is not an isolated incident, it’s an issue popping up all over the country.
One of the largest farm organizations in the country is trying to appeal to the USDA to increase this limit to 1 percent. This move would benefit the industry and consumers alike. Research shows that plants with slightly higher levels of THC also have noticeably higher levels of CBD. This would also increase the amount of time farmers have to harvest their fields and allow them to produce buds much higher quality buds.
“As USDA finalizes the regulations relating to hemp, our delegates have called for slight revisions there that we think will improve the program,” said Scott VanderWal, vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF). “Growers in many parts of the USA have struggled to keep their crops under the 0.3 THC limit.”
It’s pretty common to see 0.3% as the global standard, and even as low as 0.2% in Europe. However, a few progressive countries like Switzerland, Thailand, Uruguay, and Australia, are moving towards the 1% mark. This gives them a production advantage as many more countries will likely follow their lead.
States Are Taking Action
A lot of states are taking a stand against smokable hemp flower because it’s too difficult to differentiate it from regular cannabis. Lawmakers throughout the South and Midwest say it should just be banned altogether.
“Since smokable hemp and marijuana are indistinguishable by appearance and odor, without enactment of legislation clearly banning smokable hemp, we will have de facto legalization of marijuana,” states a joint press release from North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, the NC Conference of District Attorneys, the NC Association of Chiefs of Police and the NC State Bureau of Investigation.
In Indiana, an attempt to ban smokable hemp flower was blocked by a federal judge in July 2019 – deemed unconstitutional. Regardless, the Hoosier state is attempting to appeal that decision, saying that states are free to restrict certain legal products if they choose.
The Midwest Hemp Council and seven hemp wholesalers throughout the state are challenging the state’s attempt to ban smokable hemp flower. They argue that it violates “federal guarantees for the legal transportation of hemp through all states.”
The Indiana case is being watched very closely by the hemp farmers and wholesalers nationwide. If Indiana succeeds in banning smokable hemp flower, many states will do the same until all forms of cannabis becomes legal at the federal level.
Bulldozing Crops and Arresting Farmers
Following Hurricane Dorian last September, Farm John Trenton Pendarvis lost all of the plants he had grown on his licensed plot of land, so he was left with a choice to make. He had used some acreage not officially permitted for hemp by the South Carolina agricultural department. However, he called the agency and asked if he could work with the 25,000 plants. He says they told him, “Keep doing what you’re doing.”
A couple weeks later, a small army of law enforcement officers arrived at his farm. He was handcuffed and arrested, and his remaining crops were bulldozed. According to Pendarvis, there were around 30 officers coming from all different directions. A sting in every sense of the word.
Now, Pendavaris is getting the run around in court, where his case technically carries a misdemeanor charge. This whole fiasco has made him symbolic for the problems that plague farmers in the hemp industry. In conservative regions of the United States, such as the South and Midwest, the legal system continues to inhibit farmers.
Hemp has been a lucrative pull for farmers who can make a huge profit off it compared to peanuts, alfalfa, and other crops. This is especially true in the south where the warm temperatures and fertile soil provide perfect conditions for growing hemp, but it’s also applicable in the Midwest, as hemp is a particularly hardy plant that can withstand some inclement weather.
So, to sum it all up; hemp is confusing. Regulations and perceptions are forever-changing and it will take a while before we some real stabilization. Rep. Collin Peterson (D.-Minn.) recently introduced a bill that would amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to add CBD to the list of legal dietary supplements and exclude it from prohibited foods and products.
This bill would effectively bypass any FDA interference and make CBD federally legal. While it would be great for the supplement side of the industry, we’re not yet sure how it’ll impact the cultivation sector. It’s like that there will be a positive ripple effect though, because if CBD products become legal and demand increases, there were naturally be a need for more hemp plants.
The best thing we can do right now is continue advocating for cannabis reform and supporting representatives who stand by full legalization.
If all cannabis and hemp is legal, it will be much harder for conservative law makers to pick and choose what they will allow within their states.
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