Michigan’s growing hemp industry faces roadblocks

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Hemp plant. Image: Chmee2, CC by 3.0

By Emerson Wigand

Capital Information Service

Michigan’s hemp industry could get up to $ 100 million in federal funds to help it compete globally in a proposal pushed by a nationwide growers association.

The state is one of four with emerging hemp industries targeted by the National Hemp Association, as well as Oregon, New York and Florida. The funding would be used to develop a “regional super site” in each state to help grow the industry, said Geoff Whaling, president of the association.

Hemp is a cannabis plant with a very low percentage of THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana. The development of the industry could benefit Michigan both environmentally and economically, Whaling said. The plant has many uses, but it is the state’s auto industry that makes it a target for development.

“The biggest potential use for hemp today, outside of food, is the automotive industry,” Whaling said. “That is why we have asked that $ 100 million of this money be allocated specifically to Michigan.”

For example, BMW plans to reduce its carbon footprint by using bioplastics from hemp, a renewable resource, in production, Whaling said. The growth of electric vehicles means more opportunities because hemp rope is lightweight and can hold an electrical charge like copper.

The proposal comes as Michigan growers navigate the state’s hemp-growing plan that lawmakers approved last year. The plan, implemented on Dec. 1 after approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, brought Michigan into compliance with the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized the industry at the federal level.

USDA requirements involve state licensing and THC testing procedures to ensure plants do not exceed the threshold accepted for industrial hemp. If samples exceed the limit of 0.36%, farmers must destroy the entire crop.

“Having this final rule at the federal level is a good thing, it leads to consistency between states,” said Molly Mott, Michigan Hemp Program Specialist. “It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about hemp, pesticides, or any other federally regulated area.”

The state’s plan is a positive step for the industry, but there are areas where the system can be improved, said Blain Becktold, the government-industry liaison for Hemp Michigan, a subsidiary of the National Hemp Association.

Becktold, owner of Down On The Farm advisory services in Spring Lake, said the rules for CBD, a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis plants like hemp, in human dietary supplements and foods for the livestock, are a big problem for some farmers.

The Food and Drug Administration bans CBD in food products like edibles or livestock. Under Michigan’s new plan, state-licensed growers are required to follow federal guidelines and could face consequences for the sale of CBD edibles.

Many Michigan farmers who used to work with plants high in CBD are now sitting on the hemp they grew two years ago because products that contain it are federally illegal, Becktold said.

The oversupply has disrupted the legal market as much of the interest in hemp comes from companies looking to make CBD products. Those who follow the rules are at a distinct disadvantage.

“If we make it, we can’t sell edibles in farmer’s markets, it’s illegal,” said Joe Brown, owner of Brown’s Farmacy, Michigan’s oldest hemp farmer’s market in Saranac. “So the only group in the whole state that is negatively affected by this are the farmers market people. “

It is frustrating that he cannot have these products on his farm when the gas station several hundred yards away can transport them, he said.

The state requires anyone growing hemp to register with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and provide the place to grow it, Mott said. For those creating unlicensed CBD products, there is no system that requires safety testing or inspections. But there is no application to stop the production and sale of these products, given the resources of the agricultural agency.

“The risks associated with each situation are assessed before determining whether enforcement action should be taken,” said Jennifer Holton, director of communications for the department.

But state agriculture officials said the issue is important given consumer confusion over the legality and safety of these products.

Becktold said he hopes to see legislation passed to force the FDA to create a legal route for CBD to enter the market. Mott said such legislation has been proposed at the state and federal levels.

Whaling said there is no easy solution. FDA officials told him they would not consider CBD as a dietary supplement and he doubts the legislation will be able to address this issue. Therefore, Whaling said the investment in Michigan, like the proposed $ 100 million, would focus on hemp fiber and grains, where there is unified national support.

Without solving this CBD problem, many hemp growers are stuck in limbo. Those who followed the licensing system would be punished for competing with illegal products that are widespread in the market. This is why Brown said the issue needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

“We have a special set of rules for us, and people like us,” Brown said. “It is killing our industry.


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