Why Not Hemp?

July 27, 2017

Ohio has legalized medical cannabis, yet hemp remains illegal. I asked one of our customers more. Scot Waring is the Extraction and Laboratory Manager at Champlain Valley Dispensary & Southern Vermont Wellness. 

Why is hemp still not legal federally? Is it simply the shared family tree with cannabis or are there other factors?
It’s complicated and contextual. Hemp and marijuana are both part of the Cannabis sativa complex and for the most part, the federal government allows for little distinction (although transport of materials less with than 0.3% THC by mass can cross state lines). Hemp and marijuana are different in terms of cannabinoid levels (much lower in hemp) and ratios (non-intoxicating cannabidiol (CBD) is the dominant cannabinoid in hemp). CBD is becoming recognized as an important non-intoxicating medicine. Still, marijuana and can cross-pollinate with marijuana plants, so there is some biology to it, but it’s largely this way for simplicity of enforcement.

How could we get hemp legalized? Is the only option to employ lobbyists? Or is there legal action in the works to help move this forward?
In most states it is legal to grow and its cultivation usually has support of those respective states. Here in VT for example, it costs $25 for a license with no plant count limit. The UVM Cooperative Extension Agency grows different varieties of hemp at one of the research stations and provides direction for farmers who wish to do the same. There are many activities going on promote legality and proliferation of hemp. It’s a strange place right now, but growing hemp is gaining acceptance quicker than even medical marijuana.

Up to now, has legislation largely been left to states to enforce? Have there been any federal crackdowns on hemp farmers?
I don’t know about too many crackdowns on hemp farmers, although I’m sure it happens. From the air hemp and marijuana look similar and if it’s a federal task force the hemp can be seized – at best. Not long ago the DEA issued a memo indicating that it still considers hemp and CBD Schedule I substances. This hasn’t done much to change state policy towards hemp other than make sure they have good regulations in place. But at the retail level some states and localities prohibit sale of CBD oil (even if the THC content is below the federal legal limit).

From what I understand, most hemp farmers produce large quantities and use high production systems to extract the oil. Is this true? Do you know how much is typically processed per day?
Yes. As I mentioned above, the overall cannabinoid content is lower in hemp than it is in marijuana. This being the case, there is an economy of scale with hemp. When we perform runs everything takes twice as long but produces less oil than shorter marijuana oil extractions. Some use CO2 extractors like the Apeks, while other find using a heated alcohol solvent reflux system provides a greater return of cannabinoids and converts the acid forms (that naturally occur in the plant, like CBDa, THCa, and CBGa) into their bioactive forms of interest to patients (i.e. THC, CBD, CBG). With the 5L Apeks and CO2 we can process 2.2 lbs hemp/day (0.3 lbs/hour). With a 60 L solvent reflux and recovery machine and ethanol we can process 2 lbs. hemp/hour (24 lbs/day). Both of these methods require further refining to remove water and residual solvent.

In your opinion, do you think the hemp industry will be federally legalized any time soon?
Yes. If the recent election had gone differently we may be experiencing legal hemp right now. Regardless, I think when you have people like Senator Mitch McConnell pushing for the legalization of hemp (Kentucky used to have a strong hemp farming culture) and members of the NFL and MMA promoting the use of CBD to deal with pain, inflammation, and preventing nerve damage, and the fact that a lot of our hemp is imported from eastern Europe and China for medicine, fiber, building materials, and biomass… it just seems like we are waiting for the inevitable.