Hemp farming a growing opportunity for Texas
Pine Valley Farms, associate, Chris Ross, left, and company owners David and Emily Lee talk with potential customers at their hemp seed booth during the annual Ranch and Farm show held at the J.S Bridwell Ag Center, Wednesday afternoon. (Photo: CHRISTOPHER WALKER/TIMES RECORD NEWS)
For the first time, the annual Ranch and Farm Expo changed its name to the Ranch, Farm & Hemp Expo, highlighting the growing interest in industrial hemp production in Texas.
Industrial hemp growing was OK’d under the Farm Bill in 2018, but it has been a tough row to hoe to get the process started.
Dan Hunter, the assistant commissioner for water and rural affairs for the Texas Department of Agriculture, spoke at the Expo held in the Multi-Purpose Events Center J.S. Bridwell building Wednesday, and he explained the pros and cons of hemp production in Texas.
Hemp has more than 2,500 uses, Hunter said, and production of the plant could be a great opportunity for Texas in both production of hemp and the processing of hemp into products like fiber or oil.
There are a variety of species of hemp so one of the first steps is figuring out what varieties grow best in each part of Texas.
“Even in Texas we have such a wide climate – what’s going to grow best in East Texas is probably not what’s going to grow best in the East Plains or High Plains. What’s best in Valley is not necessarily what’s best in the Hill Country,” Hunter said.
Hunter said under the law currently, hemp test crops can only be grown under the direction of certain research universities such as A&M, Prairie View and Texas Tech.
Pine Valley Farms, associate, Chris Ross talked with potential customers at their hemp seed booth during the annual Ranch and Farm show held at the J.S Bridwell Ag Center, Wednesday afternoon. (Photo: CHRISTOPHER WALKER/TIMES RECORD NEWS)
The Farm Bill that legalized industrial hemp was passed by Congress in December 2018, and at the time, Hunter said, there was a great deal of urgency from potential producers.
Producing hemp could be a great for the state, but Hunter said producers need to do their homework first.
A challenge, he said, is that there is not much infrastructure in place to handle the testing and processing of hemp.
Licensing and permits for potential hemp farmers from the Texas Department of Agriculture are set to begin later this month.
A hemp-producer license is expected to be $100 and a permit is $75 per field.
Hunter said the department does not yet know what the demand will be for licenses and permits, but he expects several thousands of people will apply during this initial roll out of hemp-growing licenses.
Other states, such as Florida, Hunter said, have received state funding for hemp-production programs but the state of Texas is not offering up any legislative dollars at this point.
Once approved to grow, hemp farmers can dive right into the process, however, there are still a great deal of unknowns about hemp production, Hunter cautions.
Once a hemp farmer is 15 days out from harvest, they have to inform the TDA so the crop can be sampled and tested.
There must be at least one sample per acre of hemp that is collected in a specific way by professionals and then tested using certified equipment.
Once samples are collected, the producer can harvest the hemp, but they cannot release the plants for further processing until the lab tests come back.
If a sample of the crop turns up “hot,” meaning it tests at higher than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the grower must destroy the crop.
If a hemp grower has samples that test “hot” three times, they will be banned from growing hemp for five years.
Texas Department of Agriculture, assistant commissioner for rural affairs, Dan Hunter, spoke to a medium-sized crowd, Wednesday morning, about producing hemp products during a seminar held at the Ranch and Farm Show. (Photo: CHRISTOPHER WALKER/TIMES RECORD NEWS)
Other states are producing industrial hemp, such as Kentucky and Tennessee, but crop yields can vary greatly, and hemp seed is expensive.
One acre’s-worth of hemp seed can be $8,000-$12,000.
Hunter said for example that in Kentucky, the largest hemp producer planted 10,000 acres but was only able to harvest about 40 percent of the crop. This translated to an approximately $4-million investment with less than $2-million yield.
Another hurdle is hemp must be dried after harvest and there is a danger of mold or other damage during the drying process.
Beginning with certified hemp seed is important, Hunter said.
The variety of hemp, sex of the seed and potential germination rates can be better determined with certified seed.
Male and female hemp seeds grow differently and are used for differing industrial products. Male hemp grows up to 25 feet tall and is better suited for making fiber or rope. Female hemp, Hunter said, grows like a bush and is more often used for cannabidiol (CBD) oil that has become popular for over-the-counter medicinal use.
Hunter believes there will continue to be a market for CBD oil, but thinks industrial hemp for fiber could overtake the industry in Texas.
Hemp fiber will never replace cotton, he said, because the two have different qualities.
Once all the wrinkles are ironed out, Hunter said,Texas has the potential to be a year-round producer of hemp. Along with growing the crop, he said other states could transport their hemp to Texas to be transformed into numerous products.
“Texas has potential to be one of the leaders in this (hemp production) because we are a business-friendly state. I can see business facilities opening up here and crops coming in from other states. Louisiana, Arkansas – I actually see that potential, we just don’t have that infrastructure right now. Because we are business friendly, I can see our processing abilities attractive to other growers from other states to bring it in and have it processed,” Hunter said.
The Ranch, Farm & Hemp Expo, will continue Thursday and includes booths showcasing farm-and-ranch products and services in the Ag Center and demonstrations in the rodeo grounds. The expo at the Ag Center and will include another question-and-answer session Thursday about industrial hemp.
Hemp farming a growing opportunity for Texas
As Texas Hemp Farmers Prepare For Their First-Ever Harvest, Cannabis Regulation Remains Complicated
Texas is preparing for the first-ever legal cannabis harvests since the plant was banned statewide in 1931.
In Bergheim, Texas, just north of San Antonio, there’s a skunky smell in the air.
“You know, that’s a really good description. Skunky is a very typical terpene that is in most of these plants,” Austin Ruple said.
He’s the president and co-owner of Pur IsoLabs â a hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) company that grows hemp and manufactures retail CBD products.
Ruple stood next to a field of more than 300 hemp plants â a type of cannabis that’s rich in CBD, a legal compound that does not get users high. These plants contain no more than 0.3% THC â the psychoactive component that does get users high.
Pur IsoLabs is in Kendall County, where more than 100 people were hit with possession charges for possession of less than 2 ounces of cannabis over the past year. So, how does this whole field exist?
“You’re looking at permitted hemp in the state of Texas,” Ruple said.
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A Red State Turns Green: The Cannabis Industry In Texas
After the 2018 farm bill that legalized hemp passed at the federal level, Texas followed suit during its 2019 state legislative session. This farm and others around the state are preparing for the first-ever legal cannabis harvest since the plant was banned statewide in 1931.
In Texas and across the nation, demand for cannabis is up. Recreational marijuana sales in Colorado hit a record high in May, Rolling Stone reported the underground industry in New York City thrived while the city was shut down, and the budding hemp industry in Texas is attracting new customers.
A staffer works inside the greenhouse at Pur IsoLabs.
Pur IsoLabs co-owner Jennifer Ruple said demand for the company’s CBD products has crept upward in recent months, especially in the online market.
Despite the Ruples’ good luck, the first crop of Texas hemp will be smaller overall than many expected. And in late July, growers received more bad news when the state announced a ban on smokable hemp. That means while the pandemic may have increased demand for CBD products, it’s unclear if hemp farmers in Texas will be able to meet it.
But why is there an increased demand?
The Ruples chose their words carefully when answering. Jennifer Ruple described the effect of certain products as an “enhanced benefit,” and Austin Ruple called CBD a “great balancing tool.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved CBD for certain uses, like treatment of epilepsy. While Pur IsoLabs doesn’t claim CBD can cure anxiety, many other industry players do make those claims.
Regulated Research: CBD And THC In The Lab
Kent Hutchinson is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder. He and his colleagues are working on a long-term, observational study of how CBD, THC or a combination of both affect anxiety.
“It’s definitely still up in the air,” he said. “Obviously people are theorizing that CBD might be helpful for anxiety, but there’s not really any good data yet â any high-quality data.”
Hutchinson’s study might generate interesting findings, but it, too, won’t generate the highest quality data possible. It isn’t a double-blind, randomized clinical trial â the gold standard of pharmaceutical science. Instead, Hutchinson and his colleagues will monitor participants who independently purchase and use CBD, THC or hybrid products.
“If we were to do an actual clinical trial, it becomes much much more difficult, given the regulatory hurdles that we have to deal with,” he said.
Those regulatory hurdles pop up because cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, putting it in the most regulated category for high-risk drugs with no medical use.
As of Aug. 2, this hemp flower cannot be sold for the purpose of smoking in Texas. Instead, it’s marketed as an ingredient for tea.
“It definitely makes it more challenging,” said Igor Grant, a medical doctor and professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, where he directs the Center For Medicinal Cannabis Research.
Grant said the data is clear that THC â the psychoactive component in cannabis â does have a medical use for patients facing pain, weight loss and muscle spasms, among other conditions. But the Schedule 1 classification makes the research very difficult.
“From a medical research standpoint, it is not an appropriate classification any longer because, as I’ve mentioned, there is evidence for usefulness in several conditions,” he said.
While researchers say the Schedule 1 classification is inappropriate, THC does have potential harmful effects. It can increase anxiety in some people, and there is a correlative link between THC consumption and onset of schizophrenia or psychosis for people with a family history of those conditions.
Kevin Hill, the Director of Addiction Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, uses CBD in his practice for a variety of purposes â including treatment of the small fraction of adults who develop cannabis addiction.
“To perhaps oversimplify a bit, (CBD) functions as a buffer of sorts to the harmful effects of THC, and so, that means that it has anti-anxiety properties, antipsychotic properties as well, along with many other things that we’re learning about it,” he said. “So, cannabidiol has tremendous promise, but it’s critical that it’s used in the right way. And for me, that means under the supervision of a physician.”
Hill says a lot of the CBD on the market isn’t accurately labeled, and there’s a risk of negative interactions with other drugs a consumer might be taking.
CBD recently became slightly easier to study after the Drug Enforcement Administration rescheduled it to the lowest category following the 2018 farm bill. But for researchers interested in studying CBD and THC together, they still have to go through a rigorous process involving interviews with federal agents, laboratory inspections and an obstacle course of bureaucratic red tape.
âA Very Janus-Faced Relationship’ â How Cannabis Became A Flashpoint Of U.S. Culture Wars
Martin A. Lee is the author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana and he’s the founder and director of Project CBD, a non-profit that promotes cannabis science and therapeutics.
“We have a very Janus-faced relationship with CBD â and with cannabis in general â when it comes to mental health issues and what the therapeutic possibilities could be, and what the cultural baggage still is,” he said.
The Schedule 1 status of marijuana goes back to the culture wars of the Richard Nixon administration, but the “cultural baggage” goes back even further.
In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was formed. But the country was already at the start of the Great Depression, and as it got worse, the federal government had to cut back on spending. Harry Anslinger, the first FBN commissioner, wanted to ensure the survival of the bureau.
A propaganda film called Reefer Madness came out. It drew battle lines between cannabis traffickers and cops. After an innocent group of teenagers smoke cannabis, one of them is murdered and another is committed to an “institution for the criminally insane” for the rest of his life.
In addition to the hyperbolic concerns about mental health, much of the propaganda-driven fear around cannabis was rooted in racism. Many campaigns targeted Mexican people by calling cannabis “marihuana” and claiming it made users lazy. Some propaganda targeted white supremacist fears about interracial relationships with racist messaging that cannabis would make white woman more likely to socialize with Black men.
“This strange, evil weed â âmarihuana’ with an âH,’ which was the same plant. that was in almost every American household, using it for all these different things,” Lee said. “Because of a racist campaign, it was made essentially illegal marijuana, and the medicinal uses of cannabis were really, in some ways, lost to us. For centuries, humankind has had a connection with the plant. But because of marijuana prohibition, we lost that connection. And we’re in the process of relearning that today.”
Cannabis Law Enforcement In Texas
Nearly 100 years after Reefer Madness, law enforcement around cannabis still reflects institutional racism in the criminal justice system.
“According to 2018 data from the FBI, Texas arrested more than 70,000 people for marijuana possession (in 2018),” said Nick Hudson, a criminal justice policy analyst at the ACLU of Texas. “Despite the fact that Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates, Black people are arrested for marijuana possession at more than 2.6 times the rate of white people.”
Since 2018, many large cities and counties have reduced arrests and prosecution of low level cannabis possession. But the state is still a patchwork of policies, with some counties continuing to enforce the letter of the law.
“We have also seen increases in marijuana arrests in some other parts of the state,” he said. “The areas we’re seeing increases are in our more rural and suburban communities, while urban areas are reducing marijuana possession arrests, generally.”
And with bonds for misdemeanor cannabis possession charges running into the hundreds of dollars, many people who are arrested for cannabis are held in jail solely because they don’t have the resources to pay bail.
Meagan Harding is a senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project’s criminal justice reform project.
“What people don’t realize is there’s a difference between county jail and prison,” she said. “And more than half of the people that are incarcerated right now in Texas are pre-trial, so they have not been convicted of anything.”
Harding said the convergence of COVID-19 and disproportionate incarceration has had a profound impact on communities of color.
“I think what you’re seeing now is years and centuries of oppression of Black and brown communities now being compounded by a lot of the systemic oppression that we have been fighting against for years,” she said. “And you see the intersection of all of those things coming together in the criminal justice system: so you see health disparities coming together, you see poverty, economic disadvantage coming together all at the same time to create the perfect storm.”
While Black and brown people continue to flow through the court and prison system for cannabis-related charges, the mostly white-owned cannabis industry across the country is expanding. But the legal status of the plant remains hazy.
At the federal level, certain forms of cannabis are only legal for certain uses. At the state-level, only South Dakota still has an outright ban on all cannabis and CBD for any use. The rest of the country is a mishmashed matrix of regulations around cannabis.
Dominic Anthony Walsh can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony.
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Texas is preparing for the first-ever legal cannabis harvests since the plant was banned statewide in 1931.