How the New Hemp Law in Washington State Causes Problems with Marijuana Producers

Recently, Washington Governer, Gov. Jay Inslee, signed a new hemp law that legalized the agriculture activity of this plant in the state. Though it was already legal under a previous pilot program, known as the 2018 Farm Bill, this law brings it into a larger scale. This law brought joy to hemp growers in the state but caused worry to marijuana producers. The latter is concerned with the possibility of cross-pollination that may occur if their fields are close enough.

Hemp is a strain of the cannabis plant that is non-psychoactive as it contains more of cannabidiol (CBD) instead of THC. Manufacturers use this plant in different commercial and industrial products such as food, paper, clothing, textiles, biofuel, and many more. Most governments only permit hemp with low levels of THC content to be grown and sold. 

Marijuana, on the other hand, contains the mind-altering component of the cannabis plant, THC. It is the most commonly used illicit drug in the US. It is available in many forms, including, but not limited to candies, drinks, and cigarettes. The use of marijuana has caused many people to get addicted to it.

State and Market Concerns:

Washington state only has a dozen hemp farms, but due to the new hemp law, the hemp industry could flourish very soon. It means that more and more hemp farms could start their businesses in the state very soon. This new law removed the four-mile distance required between outdoor marijuana and hemp farms. Because of that removal, there is a higher chance that cross-pollination could happen.

Here are some of the problems that could arise from the arrival of more hemp farms:

  • Airborne pollen from male hemp plants may blow off into marijuana fields and cause female plants to seed. The resulting marijuana flower would be unsellable due to the difference in its original content percentage.
  • Hemp farmers may need a large labor force to remove all the male plants from their fields to prevent cross-pollination from happening. 
  • Marijuana fields may also pollinate with hemp farms, which would increase the THC levels in the hemp plants. Hemp must contain only 0.3% of THC for retail.

Cory Sharp, Moses Lake-based hemp farmer, said that most of the hemp industry focus on CBD. He meant that they grow mostly female plants using feminized seed. Marijuana growers do the same thing. He shared that he does not see much risk for cross-pollination if ever a hemp and marijuana field are situated beside each other. He says that five to twenty acres of hemp fields will not hurt a neighboring marijuana field.

Sharp is more concerned about the hemp farmers in places like Kansas or Nebraska, that have wild native hemp, also known as “ditch weed.” He predicts that the cross-pollination between the two has an increased risk in the rise of THC content. 

The Department of Agriculture and the Liquor and Cannabis Board of Washington State will be reviewing the concerns to see if there is a notable risk for cross-pollination. 

Most of the hemp producers have focused on CBD products. In 2017, among all the products with hemp, 84% were CBD goods. The remaining percentage belonged to farmers geared towards grain and fiber, which means they plant both male and female plants to increase seed production. These farms are what marijuana growers should look out for in case they plan to place their field beside theirs. 

The reason why marijuana farmers are anxious is that they have been facing pricing struggles for a few years now. Wholesale prices for these plants have been decreasing steadily since 2014 when Washington state legalized its recreational use. The industry has become more competitive and very fragile. 

Anders Taylor, a cultivator of sun-grown marijuana in Okanogan, said that his county had designated hemp production to tribal lands. They made this decision because of marijuana growers’ worries about cross-pollination. Okanogan county is known to have numerous outdoor MJ farms, and this problem could affect them big time. 

Other growers in the county joined forces with the commissioners to keep the four-mile distance rule between marijuana and hemp farms. They do not want to be in the same situation as the other growers in the state. 

Taylor said that hemp farmers need to make sure that they are committed to removing all the male plants in their fields. This act has to be done to avoid any potential risk of interbreeding. Even if a hemp farm is miles away but is growing a lot of male plants, it will still remarkably damage the marijuana plants. The risk is even higher with hemp farms that are growing the plants for seed and fiber. 

Many of the hemp and marijuana producers now are awaiting the final regulations to be announced. They expect that Washington state’s lawmakers are waiting for advice and guidance from the federal government about the specific rules.