The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill brought with it exciting news for many in agriculture — that industrial hemp has been declassified as a controlled substance and therefore is now legal to produce. Industrial hemp, of course, is the low-THC cousin of marijuana, legally containing less than 0.3% THC, which is nowhere near the amount that would be required to create the “high” associated with marijuana.
Though industrial hemp is now legal to grow, cannabis legalization varies from state to state. It’s fully legalized along the west coast as well as in Nevada, Colorado, Michigan, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine. The rest of the country is a patchwork of statuses; in some states medical marijuana is legal while in others, only CBD products are legal. Nebraska has decriminalized marijuana but otherwise has no legal program and three states — Idaho, South Dakota, and Kansas — have no legal program at all.
While there are a number of ways that cannabis and hemp legalization issues intersect, here’s a biggie: Since there is no way to visually tell if a plant is hemp or marijuana, interstate shipments of hemp are sometimes being seized in states with more restrictive laws and those transporting them are being charged with drug trafficking.
The reason this is an issue is because the U.S. is in the very early stages of creating an infrastructure around this crop and there are a limited number of processors who are able to take the raw hemp product and turn it into marketable goods. Furthermore, chances are the processor won’t be in your state and getting your hemp to them may involve passing through other states where it is illegal, putting shipments at risk of seizure.
Essentially, what this comes down to is that while it is legal to grow hemp, producers may find it difficult for the time being to actually sell product and/or transport it to a processor. Thankfully, there are a number of companies that are assisting farmers on this end, but even when companies follow all the rules, problems crop up (pun intended), demonstrating that the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill was truly just the beginning of this journey.
A recent article in Cannabis Times shares a story that illustrates the problems inherent in this issue.
Situations like this are a good reminder that legalization is a process and it will take time for the laws and infrastructure surrounding the industry to be created and ironed out. Additional obstacles, especially in financing and crop insurance, are also challenges that need to be overcome to smooth out the landscape for hemp producers.
But the market opportunities are there and interest in hemp and CBD products continues to increase, so for no-tillers who are interested in growing this specialty crop, this is a good time to dip your toe in and experiment, perhaps on a small scale to start.
For more background on the opportunities and obstacles in hemp production, listen to our podcast featuring Kristen Nichols of Hemp Industry Daily, who shares her extensive insights into this burgeoning market.