Local officials in Kentucky made the decision to destroy part of a legally grown hemp crop, totaling 100 pounds, because it exceeded the set limit for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis plants.
Federal law allows for hemp to be cultivated, so long as it does not exceed a 0.3 percent concentration of THC by weight. Agriculture officials in Kentucky are adamant that they had “no choice,” but to uphold federal law. Brent Burchett, director of plant marketing for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture stated,
“We’ve got a program that’s under a lot of scrutiny at the federal level. We have to be good stewards with law enforcement.”
The effort to create a thriving hemp industry in Kentucky has been successful, with many growers switching to hemp due to a waning tobacco market.
But the legal limit for hemp is a point of contention among growers, scientists, law enforcement, and even politicians. The figure seems to originate from a report dating back to 1976, written by two Canadian research scientists and commissioned by Canada’s Health Ministry (now known as Health Canada). Their report was meant to create a general taxonomy for hemp, and was never meant to be a government standard.
“It’s not psychoactive,” said Lyndsey Todd, who grew some of the potent hemp.
“You could smoke all 100 pounds and you would end up probably with a headache and nothing else.”
To put the number into perspective, cannabis in Colorado averages about 18.7 percent THC, and peaks at about 30 percent. California’s cannabis tends to not drop below a 20 percent THC concentration, and some premium strains can test up to 35 percent THC. While hemp close relative to cannabis biologically, it has much higher amounts of cannabidiol, or CBD, which is what many medical marijuana patients are looking for to treat seizure disorders and inflammatory conditions. CBD also dampens the effect of THC, neutralizing the small amount of THC found in hemp.
Fortunately, the amount of potent hemp that Kentucky destroys is less than 1 percent of the crop yield. But the 100 lbs of strong hemp could have been diluted down to the .3 percent limit and sold as medicine.
“Destroying the crop should not be the first or only option,”
said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp. Since the potency and quality of hemp can fluctuate significantly based on weather, irrigation, pests, and other environmental variables, Steenstra suggested that the rules surrounding the legal limit need to be relaxed so growers aren’t discouraged by a heavily regulated crop.