In a legislative battle in Oregon, it appears that the cannabis industry is having a civil war of sorts. Farmers who are cultivating marijuana plants are concerned that hemp growers pose a threat to their crops.
Last year, the federal government allowed states to launch industrial hemp programs. However, as marijuana is poised to boom in Oregon when full legalization is enacted on July 1, local hemp farmers are facing a new legal battle. A bill in the state House was supposed to spur hemp production, but recently proposed changes would put growing on hold and even force some farms to pull their hemp plants from the ground.
Additionally, there would be tight restrictions on hemp farming in areas where marijuana fields are plentiful. Hemp farmers would receive compensation for the stop in production, but opponents say it isn’t enough.
Cliff Thomason, who has organized a large-scale hemp farming planning consortium, says the proposed legislation is “basically the death knell of hemp in Josephine County.” Farmers fear they would be banned from growing hemp in some of the best parts of the state.
Advocates of the legislation say the amendments are necessary to keep hemp plants from wreaking havoc on marijuana plants. Marijuana farmers note that it is possible that the hemp plants could cross-pollinate with female cannabis flowers, and produce a crop that has weaker levels of the psychoactive cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is important for the both medicinal and recreational use of the plant. Something like this would significantly reduce the value of the crop.
Thomason says that at risk are potentially billions of dollars in hemp products. After securing a permit from the state, Thomason recently planted his first crop on a 20-acre piece of land near Grants Pass.
That site is what launched the entire debate. According to marijuana policy researcher Seth Crawford, with Oregon State University, hemp farms are essentially biological terrorism to the marijuana cultivation sites. Thomason’s site, for example, is close to three medical marijuana growers and a high school, which not only endangers the marijuana plants but could also pose an issue regarding compliance with federal regulations.
To avoid cross-pollination, Thomason has promised that male plants will be kept inside. However, Crawford says it’s possible that people like Thomason do not have the capability to safely farm hemp so close to marijuana grows. Crawford explained,
“They don’t know anything about industrial hemp and cannabis in general and it’s very dangerous.”
So far, 13 permits for hemp growing have been issued. The state’s Department of Agriculture faced pressure from local and state lawmakers to move quickly to get hemp plants in the ground. A spokesperson for the department admitted that in all the haste, location data for the farms was not always exact.
Industry insiders worry about the internal division between hemp and marijuana growers.
“We all come from the same underground community. We need to remain united as a community and promote cannabis as a genus.”
Reported Courtney Moran, a lawyer in Portland who promotes hemp and supports all forms of cannabis.