Jon Moreland Managing Director, Petkus North America

Hang on to your hat, this could get interesting!

I live and work out of Colorado. Imagine the kind of ribbing I have taken about a crop like marijuana as I traveled for agribusiness over the past 6 or 8 years. “Hey Jon, what kind of seed are we really processing?” Even internationally, the recognition our home state developed with cannabis was the first topic of conversation…well OK, maybe not after the Presidential elections.

In the shadow of a controversial topic like legalization and production of marijuana, a bit more conservative cousin is taking root and gaining ground… nonrecreational hemp. Actually, as an industry we should refer to the crop as “Industrial Hemp,” i.e. cannabis with less than .3% THC (the chemical that produces marijuana’s high). I am certain that never did so many Coloradoans follow the legislative development of the 2018 Farm Bill as they did this last year. In January, a segment of the bill removed industrial hemp from the Schedule 1 list of federally controlled substances. This essentially moves regulatory authority for the crop from the DEA to the USDA and allows state ag departments to file plans with the feds for agricultural production.

But hold the phone, this doesn’t exactly make propagation of industrial hemp legal in all 50 states. There are still some issues to work through and just like differentiation between states on liquor laws, driving laws, etc. industrial hemp’s legality is determined at the state level. Colorado certainly has poised itself at the head of industrial hemp growing states but there is an unprecedented amount of development in all aspects of the industry that must happen. In your lifetime can you name a plant, crop or seed going from being federally illegal to being approved for open ground cultivation in just a few years? This isn’t like bringing chia or quinoa back into the market, this is unprecedented!

I’ve had opportunities to work with industrial hemp over the last 8 or so years, working on projects to clean seed (edible and plantable), process biomass (the product used to extract cannabidiol (CBD oil) and harvest product. The industry is developing at a feverish pace. It literally is the wild west. The opportunities are legitimate, but the risks of an undeveloped market are real as well. As we squeeze industrial hemp into the American agricultural model a host of items need to be considered: development of legitimacy in seed sources, consistency in production and processing models, development of markets for the entire plant aside from just CBD oil and streamlined legal and trade environments at the state level, just to name a few… Hold on, I think we are in for a wild ride!