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Why Not Hemp?

By July 24, 2017Articles

July 24, 2017 by Andy Joseph

Ohio has legalized medical cannabis, yet hemp remains illegal. The only connection hemp has to cannabis is that they’re genetically from the same plant family. To lump the two together is akin to lumping tigers in with your domestic kitty. They may both be felines, but are vastly different.

Hemp was swept up in the cannabis paranoia after World War II, despite having minimal THC. States that do allow hemp agriculture have ridiculously stringent laws surrounding the industry, which are usually cost-prohibitive to the average farmer. They cannot afford the security measures that are required (security fencing, 24-hour monitoring, controlled access and in some cases, armed security guards), not to mention a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

All this for a plant with 0.3 percent THC. A person couldn’t ingest enough hemp to get high – they’d explode from the fiber before they got high from it. Fortunately, there has been progress, and in 2009, Montana issued a permit for an industrial hemp-growing operation, without getting permission from the DEA (Johnson, 2017).

Hemp in Ohio

Ohio has all the infrastructure, the weather, and the resources to grow and manufacture hemp. The benefits of hemp are well-known and widely studied, so there’s no chance that a mysterious psychotropic hemp varietal will suddenly sprout if farmers begin growing it.

Nor will cannabis be able to be snuck into the hemp fields – they are planted differently (far denser than cannabis plants, which need to be spread apart for maximum yield. By comparison, hemp plants are planted very close together, to crowd out weeds and to get the most out of the harvest). In addition, cannabis growers do not want hemp nearby for fear of diluting the strain of cannabis in cross-pollination. The same is true of the reverse. Hemp farmers don’t want their valuable hemp strains to be contaminated by a cannabis plant.

Questions for a hemp producer

We asked Scot Waring, PhD, for more information. Waring is the Extraction and Laboratory Manager at Champlain Valley Dispensary & Southern Vermont Wellness.

1. 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 percent 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.

2. 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 Vermont, 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.

3. 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).

4. 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, 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, while others 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.

5. 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.

Where are we now with legislation in Ohio?

Grassroots Ohio is spearheading the efforts to legalize hemp in Ohio. The group was not able to obtain the required 304,591 valid signatures by the deadline of July 5, 2017. This would have got the measure certified for the ballot in November. The future of legal hemp in Ohio remains in question and will not be on the ballot in 2017.

Hemp is a rugged plant that is naturally pest resistant, so can easily be grown organically. Because of the way it’s planted, it resists weeds as well, so no herbicides are needed to control the weeds. In addition, it’s sustainable, and is an important renewable resource with so many uses. It’s also a high yield plant, producing far more than other agricultural crops per acre. So again, we ask, “Why not hemp?”

About The Author:

Andy Joseph is President of Apeks Supercritical, a manufacturer of CO2 subcritical and supercritical extraction equipment in Johnstown, OH. Joseph began building extraction machines more than fifteen years ago in his pole barn as a side business. In 2012, he left his positon as Director of Welding and Testing Labs for Edison Welding Institute (EWI) to dedicate fulltime to Apeks Supercritical. Today, the company has 400+ equipment installations in more than 20 states. In 2015, Apeks achieved $12 million in revenue. The inventor of five patents, including the Valveless Expansion Technology (prevents clogging of product), Joseph and his company were recognized as one of the “Top 100 Most Brilliant Companies” by Entrepreneur Magazine in 2014. In 2016, the company is a winner of the Edison Award and Joseph was a regional winner and national finalist in the EY (Earnest and Young) Entrepreneur of the Year Award for his outstanding leadership, ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit. Joseph earned his Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in welding engineering from the Ohio State University. A two-time Navy Achievement Medal recipient, he served aboard the USS San Francisco as an enlisted nuclear propulsion mechanic. A native Ohioan, he and his wife and five children live in Johnstown, not far from the company’s 17,000 square-foot facility.

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