Oregon Hemp Growers Using Industrial Hemp Program to Grow Medicine

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By Keith Mansur

Oregon Cannabis Connection

 

After all the hubbub over hemp pollen contaminating marijuana farms last spring, it turns out there was little to fear after all. Almost every one of those hemp farmers, including the one in Murphy, Oregon, were growing female plants for CBD, likely with few if any males in their gardens producing pollen.

In all, thirteen 3 year industrial hemp producer licenses were issued to growers that were each supposed to cultivate a minimum of 2.5 acres of industrial hemp. Of those licensed, only a few met the requirement of 2.5 acres.

The hemp, to be considered industrial, must have a THC level of 0.3% or less near the time of harvest, otherwise it is considered illegal and cannot be sold. This meant Ag department monitoring, inspecting and sampling. But, going a bit beyond the usual scope of their inspection, they discovered something else during their visits…big plants.

Not only were nearly all of the farms out of compliance on the minimum acreage that was to be grown, they were almost all growing large, resinous plants, just like a medical cannabis grow would. Instead of a close row planted crop or a crop that was broadcast spread by seed, these farms had transplanted the cultivars one at a time and quite far apart…6 or 8 feet apart in some cases. This is not how industrial hemp is usually farmed, but rather how medical cannabis is almost always propagated.

“Things on the ground looked a little different than we thought they would,” explained Lindsay Eng, Director of Market Access & Certification for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “We’ve seen some high CBD low THC varieties that have flowers all around, like a bush.”

Lindsay Eng of ODA Image: Lindsay End, Director of Market Access & Certification for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. (Image OLCC)

The department stopped issuing hemp licenses this past summer, as Eng further explained, “The biggest reason we quit issuing licenses was because there was a lot of confusion about what fit within the rules, and it was the end of the growing season as well, and we are changing to a one year license period.”

Jerry Norton’s industrial hemp planting, unlike almost every other in the state, looked like an agricultural hemp crop. His family has been growing grass seed in the Willamette Valley for generations, and he sees hemp as a viable agricultural crop and is growing it the traditional way. His new company, American Hemp Seed Genetics, intends to be Oregon’s leader in industrial hemp seed production.

“We’re in our first year of research and development, so we’re navigating through it, but we planted the minimum 2.5 acres and densely planted the field,” explained Norton. “When the ODA came out to our place they said “Now this looks like a hemp crop”

Image: Jerry Norton’s Hemp crop at his farm, American Hemp Seed Genetics

We spoke to the ODA, and they confirmed American Hemp Seed Genetics is growing their hemp as the ODA expected to see, close together and in a large field.

“What we meant with Jerry Norton was that the field looked like what we had studied and were prepared for when we wrote the administrative rules,” Lindsay Eng explained to OCC.“That was what we were expecting with our sampling protocol, is a high density crop, but we have seen every type of growing imaginable.”

Why grow hemp like medical marijuana? The answer is one single cannabinoid…CBD.

The cultivars being grown are very high in CBD, or Cannabidiol. Cannabidiol is a useful and very therapeutic cannabinoid found in cannabis, along with over 90 other cannabinoids, some still undiscovered and not yet studied. Some more commonly known, and better understood cannabinoids include : Delta 9 THC (the most commonly known one that also gives a euphoric feeling), CBN, CBG, THCA, THCV, and many, many more.

But why is CBD so special? Many studies have shown CBD to be very effective when used to treat patients with seizures. In fact, when no other medicine seems to work, CBD has stopped seizures in the most severe patients that have shown little hope for relief from their affliction. Due to this, and the fact that CBD extracts do not make a person “high”, the majority of states have adopted “legal CBD” laws that allow for the regulated use of CBD on certain patients.

But, since CBD is derived from cannabis, a Federally illegal crop, supply is woefully inadequate across the country. Even the legal hemp market is just now starting to develop strains, but the supply falls well short of demand, which has driven up the price. In fact, dispensaries in legal states can’t get enough CBD flowers, extracts, and tinctures for their customers.

In Oregon, it’s no different, with dispensaries paying top dollar for high CBD extracts and concentrates.

“We sometimes pay two times more for high CBD extracts due to the high demand,” explained Joe Hopkins of The Greener Side dispensary in Eugene. “We can’t keep it on the shelf.”

All this CBD fever has happened in the past couple of years, and high CBD industrial hemp was developed almost immediately to try and create a supply for the emerging medical market. In Colorado and Europe, hemp strains have been reportedly developed very recently that are 20% CBD and under 0.2% THC. Considering the famous “Charlottes Web” strain was a 20:1 ratio of CBD to THC already, getting to 0.2% THC in a very short time is very realistic.

“We have a seed variety for this next year that rates at a minimum 25% CBD and still within the 0.3% THC level and we will be growing purely for that [in Murphy], you know, female plants, and clones only,” explained Cliff Thomason, a partner in Orhempco, a new hemp company with a farm in Scio and in Murphy.

Cliff Thomason of Orhempco in front of a high CBD plant they grew this past season Image: Cliff Thomason of Orhempco.

There is a way, apparently, to grow a highly valuable medical crop, a crop that is regulated by the Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Marijuana Program, and soon the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, but grow it, and “handle” it, under the industrial hemp program controlled and regulated by the Oregon Department of Agriculture…a program with much fewer costs, regulations, and less restrictions on plants or size of grow.

In fact, hemp producers are required to grow 2.5 acres, minimum, and that has many medical growers upset.

“I think they should have to register with the OHA or OLCC and jump through the same hoops we have to jump through,” said Brent Kenyon, owner of Oregon Cannabis Farms and Grateful Meds dispensaries.

“I think the med growers, and rightfully so, are [upset] that they are limited to 48 plants and I have to grow a minimum of almost 1,000 plants to even qualify under ODA,” explained Thomason of Orhempco. “If you can imagine an 8 foot by 8 foot grid on 2.5 acres is almost 800 plants, so on a 12 acre farm like we have [in Murphy], that’s 4,200 plants we’re going to grow next year!”

“It’s going to position ourselves in a very good way,” he later added.

One of the Orhempco business partners, Kit Doyle, also owns Natures Script, a medical marijuana dispensary in Murphy, Oregon, just a couple of miles from the hemp crop that was destroyed. Due to the potential value of a high CBD crop this apparently uncommon “deer attack” naturally raised the question of diversion. If not deer, then what?

“The intent of the crop in Murphy was basically to get it in the ground, to establish ourselves as leading in hemp farming, and that intent is different than the overall business intent., Doyle said. “We have a broad scope of projects we’re working on…were not limiting it to what any cannabis cultivars can do, from medical to industrial.”

What about the “medical” aspect of future crops? We asked if Doyle intends to receive it in his dispensary and he explained, “It hasn’t been realized yet, but we are working with the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture working on rules writing and all the other programs.”

We also asked if he thought the current medical growers had legitimate concerns about using the Hemp license to grow medical cannabis, and he explained, “There is a huge lack of high quality CBD medicine, why would it be a problem to grow a volume of it…if you grow a volume of it, it brings the price down.”

“I’ve got investors sitting on the sideline just waiting for the bureaucrats to get their stuff together,” he explained, frustrated by the slow promulgation of rules on industrial hemp. OrHempCo hopes to be a hemp leader in the state.

We asked Doyle if he thought it was fair that the medical growers have much more strict rules, limits, fees, and other reporting requirements and regulations, and he snapped, “Did you ever find anything on this planet that is fair? Fair is an unrealistic goal, there’s opportunity, there’s persistence, there’s no such thing…fair means nothing to me.”

“I see no moral issue about growing large amounts of medicine at all, just that you should be sensitive to the emerging market,” Richard Reames of Moon Flower Gardens in Williams, Oregon explained. “[With hemp grows] the yield limits go out the window, the plant limits go out the window…it could create a pretty messy situation.”

“Hemp farmers do not have batch sizes limited, hemp farmers do not have monthly reporting, hemp farmers do not have tracking, and hemp farmers do not have to verify that everyone they employ is over 21,” explained Peter Gendron, a board member of the Oregon Sungrown Growers Guild and a medical marijuana grower himself. “Saying they have a different playing field is an understatement.”

Image: Peter Gendron – (Willamette Live)

The Orhempco crop did pass its official ODA test for THC, coming in under the 0.3% limit, but the department does not test for CBD. However, Orhempco tested the crop for CBD at multiple labs, and all the results indicated very low levels of both CBD and THC. They also had a large variance in results using a number of different medical marijuana labs for testing the crop…something medical marijuana growers are all too familiar with.

Mr. Thomason and Orhempco were recently in the news after their industrial hemp crop was destroyed in August, apparently by a herd of deer.

“Oh, it was deer,” explained Cherryl Walker, one of two partners in the company that is also a Josephine County Commissioner. “I came out one morning and there were five of them standing by the gate.”

Image: A row of the few remaining hemp plants, planted 6 feet apart, stripped clean of their foliage. The plants are about 3 or 4 feet high.

“I don’t think it was deer, based on the damage, I thought it was Elk,” said Thomason. “If it was deer, it was a hell of a lot of them.”

“It was about five or six hundred plants,” Thomason explained further. “There’s probably 8 to 12 that they didn’t touch in the two fields, but one field was 100 percent gone…I mean every leaf, flower, I mean everything.”

The story broke across the nation about the “hemp farm destroyed by deer”. This story was preceded by another that went viral this summer from The Daily Show about a deer nick-named “Sugar Bob” that liked to nibble the medical marijuana plants at a local resort, Applegate Lodge.

Needless to say, most cannabis industry people did not buy their story. One longtime Southern Oregon grower, Richard Reames told OCC, “We all laughed, I have deer in my garden every night, and they never, ever, ever took a bite of my flowers.”

Jerry Norton of American Hemp Seed Genetics agrees, telling OCC, “Supposedly you had deer there [in Southern Oregon] that ate those hemp plants? That’s not very likely.”

“I also think the actions taken by our Josephine county commissioners who are trying to personally profit from an loophole created by the Department of Ag is, at best, disingenuous and certainly creates the appearance of impropriety,” Reames also added.

Image: Cherryl Walker with a high CBD industrial hemp plant. She is also a member of the Josephine County Commissioners and a partner in Orhempco.

Many medical marijuana growers have expressed their concern over Industrial Hemp, whether its from the pollen threat, or more recently from the threat of “creative” business practices of hemp farmers. It’s an unfair advantage which could impact the emerging marijuana industry in Oregon negatively, and create difficulties with the ODA, who appear unmotivated about hemp to begin with.

“There’s currently no way to intake medicine from a hemp farm at a dispensary,” Kenyon explained to OCC. “All the cannabis that comes in must be from a registered medical grower or patient, not a hemp farm. And, unless the legislature allows for it in the coming short session in Salem, I don’t see it being allowed in the rules.”

“Under the current rules, Ag licensees are only allowed to preserve their own seed for next year’s crop,” explained Peter Gendron, a board member of the Oregon Sungrown Growers Guild and a medical marijuana grower himself. “Any other use of the plant outside of research is not allowed, which means that if anyone were making a fiber product, pressing the seeds for oil, or growing only females to process the tops into a CBD rich medication, they would be in clear violation of the law.”

The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), North Americas preeminent hemp association, has addressed issues between marijuana and hemp before, including pollen contamination and also hemp seed oil scams where the oil is being marketed as medicinal “CBD” oil when it has almost no CBD content.

Now the difference in the new high CBD hemp and true industrial hemp is getting their attention. We spoke with Anndrea Herman of The Ridge International Cannabis Consulting, and the Board elected President of the HIA, to get her personal impression of the new trend of high CBD hemp cultivation.

“I don’t really have a name for it yet, but I prefer to call it “therapeutic”, or “horticultural” hemp. Historically, what the hemp industry has understood was that if you look at a field of hemp it would be visually distinguishable from marijuana.” Hermann explained. “Now, that’s not the case anymore because you have the horticultural garden, female only, flowering only plants going in that look like a marijuana grow operation.”

She also expressed her concerns to us about the medical marijuana market in Oregon, including what and how horticultural hemp grows, under current rules, have been allowed to grow their crops.

“I do feel that it’s unfair, the infrastructure that a marijuana grower has to [deal with], compared to a hemp grower,” Hermann explained. “It’s unfair that our colleagues in the marijuana industry have to do so much more, and hop through so many more hoops…”

Hermann, who has testified before the Oregon legislature multiple times about hemp, has been trying to clarify the difference between the cultivation of industrial hemp and the propagation of medical cannabis.

Anndrea Hermann of The Ridge Consulting Image: Anndrea Hermann in a true industrial hemp field mid-summer. Industrial hemp is normally grown close together and for seed and fiber, not resin.

“You’re maintaining these plants on a regular basis and we’re not doing that in what I consider the industrial hemp world,” explained Hermann. “That is employing the skill and expertise of those growing in the medical marijuana world because we know that’s the best way to grow outdoors and that’s the best way to get cannabinoids.”

What is the Oregon Department of Agriculture going to do?

Not much, at this point. They stopped issuing licenses, but since they simply implement the rules that the legislature develops, their hands are tied to a degree. The current rules do not address this problem, but the ODA is hoping to get help from Salem.

“We have asked for guidance on some of the most unclear parts of the statute,” explaind Eng, “We hope that by the time we re-open licenses for one year we have some clarification.”

 

Horticulture explained:

Horticulture, as defined by the US Dept. of Agriculture:

That branch of agriculture concerned with growing plants that are used by people for food, for medicinal purposes, and for aesthetic gratification.”

A "Horticultural" field of Foxglove Image: A “Horticultural” field of foxglove, which contains digoxin, a very strong compound used to make the pharmaceutical drug Digitalis. (Image OSU Extension)

And, the International Society for Horticultural Sciences explains the difference between Horticulture and Agriculture this way:

In essence, the difference between agriculture and horticulture lies in scale and scope. Agriculture usually occurs on a very large scale and deals with edible plants and animals, while horticulture deals only with plants and is done on a smaller scale…

The domain of horticulture includes cultivation, plant propagation, breeding of plants, production of crops, plant physiology as well as biochemistry and genetic engineering. The plants looked at are mainly vegetables, trees, flowers, turf, shrubs, fruits and nuts.”

Keith Mansur

Keith Mansur is the founder, publisher, and editor of Oregon Cannabis Connection newspaper. The print publication has been serving Oregon since 2010. He has been a Oregon medical marijuana patient, grower, and caregiver since 2006. Find him on Facebook or email him at occnewspaper420@gmail.com

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