Proposed Hemp Bill Would Open Field Up to More Growers - Modern Farmer

Proposed Hemp Bill Would Open Field Up to More Growers

The Hemp Advancement Act would enable people with prior drug convictions to participate in the growing industry, among other changes. But some producers say it would do more harm than good.

A hemp field in Oregon.
Photography by M.J. Bowie, Shutterstock.

The country’s first national hemp survey was released last week, applying data to trends many have already observed. Although hemp was sold to farmers as the next big agricultural advancement, it has largely failed to live up to the hype, with fewer growers in the industry and lower profit margins than predicted.

That’s partly why Maine representative Chellie Pingree, a democrat, has brought forth the Hemp Advancement Act of 2022, which would make several adjustments to hemp production, including raising the THC threshold for plants and allowing previously incarcerated people to grow hemp. Pingree’s goal, she says, is to encourage more people to grow hemp and to encourage the overall industry to flourish.

Current hemp provisions restrict people that have drug convictions in the past 10 years from being involved in any aspect of hemp production, which means that the groups most affected by drug laws aren’t able profit off of the growing industry. Nearly half of all prisoners in the United States are incarcerated for drug-related offenses, with Black men disproportionately represented. Black people are roughly six times as likely as white people to be incarcerated. Those statistics factor into who, exactly, is allowed to grow hemp in America. According to the recent hemp survey, 90 percent of American hemp growers identify as white. 

[RELATED: What We Learned From the Nation’s First Hemp Survey]

In a 2018 op-ed, industry group GrowHempColorado denounced the “discrimination in the cannabis (both hemp and marijuana) industries,” noting that other previously incarcerated people, including “rapists, child molesters and murderers will be allowed to work in hemp; however, isolated, single groups of minorities that have been targeted and impacted by the discriminatory War on Drugs will not be allowed.”

“[That’s] an antiquated way of looking at this, and it’s a continuation of coupling hemp and marijuana, and treating hemp like a controlled substance,” says Pingree. She points out that is not how hemp or marijuana are seen in much of the country, and conflating hemp and cannabis is incorrect.

“In many states, marijuana is legal,” Pingree says. So, why would anyone try to grow cannabis and pass it off as hemp when “you could actually grow marijuana, which has significant amounts of THC, and is what the buyers are looking for?” 

The proposed act came out of discussions after hemp was legally separated from cannabis in the 2018 Farm Bill. That legislation did provide a clear pathway for legal hemp, but Pingree says it also created several obstacles for farmers, specifically the current THC limit of 0.3 percent for hemp.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. Dry, cured hemp is tested before producers are able to sell the crop or use it in further products, and hemp growers have to ensure their products stay under that 0.3-percent THC limit. If they don’t, producers have to destroy the crop, often by burning the whole stock. “They weren’t even giving farmers an option, after all of the investment and the time, to maybe turn [the crop] into biochar or something else, so they could recoup some of their income,” Pingree says. “It’s just ridiculous and incredibly restrictive. It places a huge burden of risk on farmers.” In addition, hemp needs to be tested for THC at labs registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency, which Pingree says clogs up the system and delays other more crucial drug testing. 

Under Pingree’s bill, THC levels for hemp would be adjusted: Hemp in the field could be up to one percent total THC and hemp in process can exceed one percent as long as it’s in a bonded facility. Any final hemp product being sold to consumers, however, still cannot exceed 0.3 percent THC.

In theory, this would make things easier for growers, who wouldn’t have to worry about destroying entire crops during the growing process. However, not everyone is on board with the changes. While the proposed act would raise the THC limits in hemp, it would also recognize more psychoactive components of the plant. There are several different cannabinoids in hemp, but currently labs only test for delta-9, the dominant THC type.

[RELATED: Will Hempcrete Ever Catch On?]

Under this new proposed act, however, other cannabinoids such as delta-8 (which is half as potent as delta-9) and delta-10 (even less) would be factored into the total THC measurements. While these are minor cannabinoids, they will still add to the total THC present in the plant. So, while the THC limit while growing and processing would be allowed to be higher, producers might reach it faster. 

Some growers say the effort to simplify things is actually more impractical in the long run. “The Hemp Advancement Act of 2022 will destroy the hemp market,” wrote Texas Hemp Growers, an industry group, on its Facebook page. The group says the change will “put many hemp farmers out of business.”

While the bill has broad support from many industry associations, a representative from the National Hemp Association told media last month that there is some concern about the impact of the THC limit on smokable hemp flower. Pingree agrees that her bill does not address every issue related to hemp, but she says that she’s bringing it forward for discussion before the 2023 Farm Bill. She doesn’t anticipate much opposition to the act. “I have my fingers crossed that there’s not a lot of controversy here.”

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2 years ago

The Hemp Advancement Act will destroy the hemp industry! The largest hemp association in Texas has come out opposed. This bill will effectively kill off most finished hemp products by backpedaling the definition of hemp from 0.3% delta-9 THC to 0.3% total THC. All the gains made in the market will be lost. The smokable flower market will be completely destroyed, and most finished products will have to be reformulated for this new definition. I am available to interview to explain why this bill is being opposed by many in the industry.

2 years ago

Like Zachary said this is bad, very bad. It may look good on the surface but if you read it, its bad.