Farmers hopeful that marijuana legalization would benefit hemp industry

Southside Virginia News

PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Gov. Ralph Northam’s support for legalizing marijuana could have an impact on Virginia’s growing hemp industry, and not necessarily as a competitor.

Legalizing marijuana might ease a restriction placed on industrial hemp that farmers say is preventing them from getting the most out of their crops.

“The market got flooded in 2019 with product,” said Robert Mills, Jr., the owner and operator of Briar Views Farms.

Mills said the price of CBD products dropped from about $4/pound in March 2019 to just 44 cents now.

But he sees a bright future for hemp. He even planted more of it this year.

“We had 16 acres up from six and a half from last year.”

The problem, he said, is how much CBD he’s able to get from a plant. CBD is an oil extracted from the plant. It doesn’t get you high, but it’s used to treat a wide range of mental and physical health issues.

“CBD and THC both are cannabinoids,” said Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent for Pittsylvania County Stephen Barts. “They accumulate at a similar rate in the plant as it progresses through maturity.”

As Barts explained, a hemp plant cannot legally have more than 0.3% THC. THC is the chemical that produces the high in marijuana.

“Anything above that is no longer considered industrial hemp,” said Barts, “and at that point, it is required to be disposed of.”

That limits how much farmers can make from their crops.

“To reach that plant’s full potential on CBD,” said Mills, “that number needs to be at 0.8, and so we’re not able to produce the CBD we need…to maximize our profitability as growers.”

Legalizing marijuana in Virginia could be the key to removing that barrier, though both Mills and Barts say it all depends on how the law is written.

“If marijuana is legalized,” said Mills, “then that may change that whole dynamics on that 0.3 THC.”

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